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Ernst, Grassley see biofuels as a way to fill the gap after Biden bans Russian oil imports

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Under the bill, called the Homefront Energy Independence Act, E15 would be made available year round.

U.S. gas prices are soaring to a record high following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Iowa’s U.S. senators are introducing bipartisan legislation to replace Russian oil imports with biofuels.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a ban on Russian oil imports. Iowa’s two Republican U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst want him to take it a step further. They’ve announced legislation to put the ban into law and use biofuels – like gasoline with 15 percent ethanol – in Russian oil’s place.

“Gas prices just hit all-time record highs for Americans across the country,” said Ernst on a Wednesday news conference with Grassley. “It has never been clearer that energy security is national security. Banning Russian oil was long overdue.”

The bill Ernst and Grassley are introducing, called the Homefront Energy Independence Act, would make E15 available year round.

It would also establish an E15 and biodiesel tax credit, direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize a rule on E15 labeling on fuel dispensers, and help gas stations and other fuel sellers move to more compatible infrastructure to be able to sell biofuels.

Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is the bill’s lead Democratic co-sponsor. Other Democrats and Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill as well, Ernst said.

Grassley said biofuels are a “clean energy solution that could immediately lower gas prices and bolster American energy independence,” a better solution than turning to Venezuela for oil, he said.

“This is an urgent, a very urgent problem that is impacting families across the country,” Grassley said. “Iowa producers stand ready to meet the moment and to ramp up production. The answer is Iowa biofuels, not OPEC oil.”

Iowa is the country’s largest producer of ethanol, which is made from corn. Ernst said she’s looking to President Biden to acknowledge the gap in imports that will stem from the U.S. not importing Russian oil.

Last year, the U.S. imported close to 700,000 barrels of crude oil and refined petroleum products from Russia each day. Ernst said biofuel producers are the solution to “fill the gap.”

“It doesn’t get much more common sense than this,” Ernst said. “It’s a ready-made solution. And our producers are ready to go. They’re ready to fill that gap and bring those costs down for our consumers at the pump.”

In a statement, Emily Skor, the CEO of Growth Energy, praised the bill, saying it “would provide relief for the rising gas prices families are paying at the pump.”

“We urge the passage of this legislation to invest in a more energy independent nation through increasing the use of and access to higher biofuel blends today and the years ahead,” Skor said.

Regular gasoline is averaging $4.25 per gallon on Wednesday, according to AAA. A year ago, the average price for regular gasoline was about $2.80 per gallon, as prices climbed from their early-pandemic lows.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that the U.S. imported close to 700,000 barrels of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia each day last year.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter