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Republicans Celebrate USDA Investment In E15 As Democrats Cry Too Little, Too Late

Amy Mayer
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks at a Casey's store in Ankeny .

Iowans and drivers across the region will have more ready access to gasoline with a 15 percent ethanol blend as federal dollars flow to ethanol producers and retail gas stations.

The United States Department of Agriculture has announced grants totaling $22 million for retail pumps and storage for E15 ethanol. The Trump administration approved year-round sales of E15 last year, but it has not been readily available for most drivers.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited Iowa Thursday and stopped at a recently renovated Casey’s store and gas station in Ankeny. The pumps, which were installed without USDA funding, offer three blends of ethanol: E10, E15 and E85, which is limited to flex-fuel vehicles.

While the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program plans to distribute up to $100 million total, Perdue says the goal is not only to provide a boost to private industry.

“The real winners are gonna be the consumers when they pull up to a pump like that,” Perdue said. “I was just admiring it and desiring for this to come to the Southeast and where my home is.”

Amy Mayer
New pumps at the Casey's store on East 1st Street in Ankeny offer three different blends of ethanol.

Perdue said as travelers find E15 in the Midwest, he expects they will start to demand it in other parts of the country. The E15 at the pump he saw was 10 cents per gallon cheaper than the E10 blend. The first round of grants will invest in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine other states. USDA plans to announce additional grants in the coming weeks.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley accompanied Perdue and both Republicans applauded their colleague, Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, for her advocacy on behalf of the biofuels industry. Ernst is locked in a tight re-election campaign against Democrat Theresa Greenfield.

But the funds are being distributed very close to Election Day. For more than a year, a bipartisan group of farm state senators has been pushing the Trump administration to honor promises made to farmers and ethanol producers, who have faced multiple hurdles in the past few years.

Some Democrats says this investment is too little, too late.

“I’m a little bit disturbed that Secretary Perdue and our senators are taking time to pat themselves on the back for things that should have been happening two years ago,” said Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, who farms in Polk County.

“And I’m annoyed that President Trump gave up on efforts for another stimulus package that would help rural Iowa,” Lehman said. “It’s time to get back to work and get help to farmers who need it badly.”

Amy Mayer
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced federal grants for E15 infrastructure.