Absolutely the worst thing about me is that I love cars. I'm not a car nerd, per se — the opposite, in fact; I don't remotely know what I'm looking for when Lyft tells me the make and model of my pick-up — but one of my great pleasures in life is nevertheless getting behind the wheel and just going. It's a pleasure, however, that has gotten rather expensive lately.
Under pressure to offer relief to Americans heading into peak road trip season, President Biden this week announced that his Environmental Protection Agency will allow the summertime sale of E15 gasoline, which uses a 15 percent ethanol blend and is usually only available between September 15 and June 1. "At current prices, E15 can save a family 10 cents per gallon of gas on average, and many stores sell E15 at an even greater discount," Biden said.
But everything has a price. Saving a dime at the pump just means Americans will end up paying for E15 elsewhere — in the air we breathe, the cars we drive, and even, potentially, the food we eat.
E15 (often sold as "Unleaded 88") is banned during the summer months for good reason: Ethanol blends are credited with increasing pollutants that react with sunlight to create more smog. It doesn't stop there, either: Higher-ethanol blends also "reduce fuel efficiency, jack up corn and other food prices, and have been treated with skepticism by some car manufacturers for the damage they do to engines," Yale Environment 360 reports.
Ethanol is made from grain, a product in short supply globally because two of its biggest producers, Ukraine and Russia, are preoccupied with other things. Meat farmers — not exactly the typical torchbearers of environmentalism — are already stressing about the E15 decision, as grain is used to feed livestock and poultry. "Further and artificial demand for corn created by this administration will likely increase the cost of corn and all food products dependent on corn and corn oil inputs," Mike Brown, president of the unfortunately named National Chicken Council, told The Wall Street Journal. Even more importantly, as the sustainability website Treehugger points out, it's crass to use a food staple to fuel cars while the world teeters on the edge of a devastating food shortage.
Likewise, it's been disheartening to see just how quickly Biden has been willing to set aside his climate objectives to save Americans from having to pay up for our driving addiction. Maybe car-lovers like me should be left to feel the squeeze, because while E15 buys us a little more road for our buck — at what cost?