RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
American farmers have had a tough go of it recently, taking a financial hit for the Trump administration's trade disputes. But last night at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, President Trump made an announcement he hopes will make a lot of those farmers very happy.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My administration is protecting ethanol, all right? That's what you want to hear.
TRUMP: Today, we are unleashing the power of E15 to fuel our country all year long.
MARTIN: President Trump is referring to his promise to lift certain restrictions on the sale of ethanol and gasoline in order to boost sales and put more money in the pockets of corn farmers. Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio was at the rally, and he joins us now from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Good morning, Clay.
CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So just lay out for us what President Trump is ordering the EPA to do by lifting regulations on ethanol.
MASTERS: So last night, the president laid out his intent to extend the sale of a kind of gasoline called E15 year-round. Right now, selling it in the summer months is prohibited. E15 is basically gasoline with 15 percent of it being primarily from corn-based ethanol. Doing this could prop up corn prices that have been down thanks to tariffs by other countries imposed in retaliation for the Trump administration's trade war.
Now, there is no timetable yet from the White House as to how fast this proposed rule change will go into effect, but there are hopes to have it completed before next summer when, you know, many drivers are hitting the road. Certainly, there were Iowa Republican politicians at this rally last night who face tough races next month. They were applauding the decision. There were also Democrats in the state who were pleased with this announcement.
MARTIN: And so is it really going to make a difference for Iowa farmers then?
MASTERS: Yeah. I think it will, but, again, a lot of it does really depend on the timeline for when it gets into effect - when it goes into effect, that is.
MARTIN: Ethanol is often hailed as being environmentally friendly because it reduces the use of fossil fuels, although many environmentalists are opposed to this particular move by the president. Can you explain their position here?
MASTERS: Well, we use an example of yesterday, the National Wildlife Federation said the move is not legally allowed under the Clean Air Act. They said in a release that the change would produce more pollutants that lead to smog than gasoline alone. There are reports that a number of outside environmentalist groups have said that they will sue over any change to the fuel policy. So there's that with environmental concerns from environmentalists. But I should also add that there is bipartisan opposition to this move also from U.S. senators in primarily oil-producing states.
MARTIN: I mean, you mentioned the political backdrop of all this. The midterm elections are coming up. I mean, clearly, the president has a political calculus in this. Can you explain what the political consequences might be here?
MASTERS: Right. I mentioned earlier the idea that the president's trade war has been affecting Iowa agriculture and manufacturing in the state. So talking about this in Iowa along with this, you know, new NAFTA deal, or, as it's called USMCA, as well as other trade deals, it's kind of a way for the president to garner some support for a couple of these races that look pretty close here in Iowa for the midterm. That includes Iowa's governor, Kim Reynolds. She faces Democrat Fred Hubbell. She was at the event, and the president and she were exchanging plenty of compliments with each other. Also the Republican congressman who represents this district, David Young, was also at the rally. He faces a tough race as well in the summer. Young had said Trump's tariffs were making him nervous, and he seemed to be walking the line, you know, when it came to supporting the president. But now, there's really no question. Last night, the president said a vote for David is a vote for me.
MARTIN: What's the political argument against this move, though? You said that there are some politicians who oppose it.
MASTERS: Well, certainly, the politicians that are opposing it are from oil-producing states. And so, you know, they have oil in mind. And so a lot of those senators don't want corn ethanol being the future in energy. They're more interested in oil.
MARTIN: Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
MASTERS: Yeah. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.