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U.S. President Joe Biden announces steps to ease rising consumer prices at POET Bioprocessing in Menlo, Iowa on April 12, 2022.

U.S. President Joe Biden announces steps to ease rising consumer prices at POET Bioprocessing in Menlo, Iowa on April 12, 2022. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Climate Campaigners Say Biden Ethanol Push Is 'As Silly as It Is Dangerous'

"The Biden administration is searching everywhere for a solution to high energy and gas prices—but the answer is right under their noses," said one advocate. "A windfall profits tax is smart, fair, and popular, and Congress is already prepared to move it forward."

Kenny Stancil

As U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a suspension of seasonal regulations on ethanol blending—part of a bid to lower gas prices—climate campaigners criticized the White House for pursuing what they characterized as an economically impotent and environmentally harmful policy instead of advocating for more effective and popular solutions: a windfall profits tax on Big Oil and aggressive clean energy transition.

"The only valid solution to escaping the grip of expensive, polluting energy is to transition immediately to clean, renewably sourced electricity for our cars, homes, and businesses."

With inflation and corporate profits at their highest levels in decades—thanks in large part to price gouging at the pump and beyond—Biden "headed to corn-rich Iowa on Tuesday with a modest step aiming to trim gasoline prices by about a dime a gallon," the Associated Press reported. Nationwide, a gallon of gas currently costs about $4.10 on average.

AP noted that "most gasoline sold in the U.S. is blended with 10% ethanol, a biofuel that is currently cheaper than gas." Biden announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will issue an emergency waiver allowing the continued sale of E15, a 15% ethanol blend typically prohibited between June 1 and September 15 due to concerns that it worsens air quality amid hotter summer temperatures.

In response, Food & Water Watch managing policy director Mitch Jones said in a statement that "Biden's assertion that the polluting, resource-wasting ethanol industry will somehow magically fix our nation's gas price crisis is as silly as it is dangerous."

Food & Water Watch argued that expanding the sale of E15, which Biden promoted at a biofuel company located west of Des Moines, is a victory only for "the corporate factory corn farming industry."

"The ethanol industry in Iowa is embroiled in a political melee over three proposed carbon capture pipelines which the industry claims would help mitigate the rampant pollution and environmental degradation caused by ethanol production and related mass-scale factory corn farming," the group noted. "Recent Food & Water Action polling found that a plurality of Iowa voters oppose the carbon pipelines proposed for the state, and 80% oppose using eminent domain to build them."

Jones emphasized that "only a tiny fraction of American gas stations currently have access to ethanol-heavy gas in the first place." This is not disputed by senior Biden administration officials. They estimate that just 2,300 gas stations out of more than 100,000 nationwide can currently provide the less expensive E15 blend, meaning that their projected savings of 10 cents per gallon would not reach millions of people outside certain areas in the Midwest and South.

Meanwhile, the Stop the Oil Profiteering (STOP) coalition—created last month to build support for a windfall profits tax on oil majors—stressed that Biden's plan doesn't address the root cause of soaring fuel prices and overlooks a more efficient method of curbing pain at the pump.

"The Biden administration is searching everywhere for a solution to high energy and gas prices—but the answer is right under their noses," Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media and STOP, said in a statement.

"A windfall profits tax is smart, fair, and popular, and Congress is already prepared to move it forward," said Henn.

Last month, congressional Democrats introduced the bicameral Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax in an attempt to rein in price gouging by fossil fuel corporations, as Common Dreams reported.

The measure would hit large fossil fuel companies with a per-barrel tax—whether the oil is domestically produced or imported—equal to 50% of the difference between the current price of a barrel of oil and the average price per barrel between 2015 and 2019. An estimated $45 billion in annual revenue would be redistributed to U.S. households in the form of quarterly rebates.

"If our leaders are to provide meaningful relief to America's hardworking families, we need a meaningful solution," said Henn. "A windfall profits tax will get to the root of the problem, stop Big Oil's war profiteering, and put money back into the pockets of Americans."

Less than two weeks ago, Henn similarly criticized Biden for ordering the release of one million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for six months, arguing that the move did nothing to halt "Big Oil's coordinated campaign to gouge Americans."

Since consumer demand returned following a brief coronavirus-driven decline in 2020, shareholders have pressured oil producers to restrict supply to push prices higher. Last year, as average gas prices in the U.S. steadily increased—hitting around $3.40 per gallon in December 2021, up from $2.10 a year before—25 of the world's biggest fossil fuel corporations raked in a record $205 billion in profits.

"A windfall profits tax will get to the root of the problem, stop Big Oil's war profiteering, and put money back into the pockets of Americans."

Oil and gas companies have hiked prices even further during the first three months of 2022—especially in the four weeks since Biden announced a U.S. ban on imports of Russian fossil fuels in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, leading to growing accusations of war profiteering.

U.S. fossil fuel executives have not been shy about taking advantage of ongoing geopolitical crises to compel consumers to accept higher costs for the foreseeable future. After rewarding themselves and other investors with billions of dollars worth of stock buybacks and dividend increases last year, industry leaders have made clear they intend to do more of the same in 2022.

According to STOP, "Most Americans know who is really to blame for high gas prices, with a new ABC News/Ipsos poll showing that a large majority of Americans believe oil companies and [Russian] President Vladimir Putin are to blame for skyrocketing oil prices."

"But despite being brought to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress about their role in spiking gas prices, Big Oil executives have made it clear they will not act to curb prices and instead focus on maximizing profits," the coalition continued. "Already, five Big Oil executives have been caught cashing in on war, selling $99 million in stock. On the heels of Big Oil's long record of collaborating with the Putin regime, conservative estimates put Big Oil's expected potential windfall in 2022 at up to $126 billion."

"If Biden is to deliver real, meaningful relief at the pump," added the coalition, "he must listen to the 87% of voters who support accountability on price gouging oil companies and implement a windfall profits tax."

Jones, for his part, warned that "Biden's move to double down on production from the pollution-plagued ethanol industry is driving us deeper into the hole of dirty fossil fuel mixtures."

"The only valid solution to escaping the grip of expensive, polluting energy," said Jones, "is to transition immediately to clean, renewably sourced electricity for our cars, homes, and businesses."


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