The nation's ethanol producers last week asked the Environmental Protection Agency to boost the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline from a maximum of 10 percent to 15 percent.
If approved, the higher blend would boost the demand for the fuel additive by as much as 6 billion gallons a year, according to Growth Energy, a coalition of producers.
The U.S. ethanol industry has been reeling under depressed commodity prices due to oversupply. Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said the Department of Agriculture wants to raise the level of ethanol in gasoline to raise demand and help the struggling industry.
"It is an infant industry and so it's going to have some growing pains," Vilsack said Monday. "What we need to do is to provide some degree of stability and increasing that blend rate quickly would provide increased market opportunities and increased stability."
A statement from the EPA last week indicated the agency is reviewing the request. Vilsack said his department would encourage the EPA to take a longer view as it goes through the research.
"Our view is that if we can get to 12 to 13 percent by just simply understanding that it's not much different than 10 percent," he said. "It's an insignificant difference, and under the rules and regulations EPA could do that."