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The Topline: E15 gets a Midwestern boost

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The Topline: E15 gets a Midwestern boost

Feb 26, 2024 | 10:36 am ET
By Christopher Ingraham
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The Topline: E15 gets a Midwestern boost
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Sean Rayford/Getty Images.

Welcome to The Topline, a weekly roundup of the big numbers driving the Minnesota news cycle, as well as the smaller ones that you might have missed. This week: EPA approves year-round E15 gas (but only for the Midwest); what the coming wildfire season might look like; Minnesotans punching above their weight in presidential runs; and, peak respiratory virus season receding. 

Year-round E15 is coming to the Midwest

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency approved year-round sales of gas containing 15% ethanol (E15), but only for eight Midwestern states (including Minnesota). Prior to the rule change, E15 was only available during winter months over concerns it would worsen summer smog.

Farmers and petroleum groups have been pushing the change for a while, the former because it means more money for the corn used to produce ethanol and the latter because they’re willing to do anything to forestall the rise of electric cars that don’t rely on liquid fuel at all.

Supporters of ethanol-based fuel say it’ll save consumers money at the pump and result in fewer greenhouse emissions than traditional gasoline, but the research on both claims is decidedly mixed

To top it all off: There’s also no good evidence that E15 is any more likely to produce smog than gasoline blended with 10% ethanol — the distinction largely rests on a regulatory waiver issued back in the 1970s during that decade’s energy crisis, according to agricultural economist Aaron Davis with the University of California, Davis.

Coming wildfire season could be a doozy

The upper Midwest can expect prime wildfire conditions all through spring, according to the latest forecasts from the National Interagency Fire Center. The unusual lack of snow cover coupled with above-average temperatures means a warmer, drier spring that could bring a smoky start to the year.

Nick Petrack, a fire management official with the Superior and Chippewa national forests, told the Duluth News Tribune he expects the spring fire season to kick off in March, a month earlier than usual. Snow cover in most of the northern part of the state is at a record low for this time of year.

Minnesotans disproportionately likely to run for president

The Star Tribune recently asked the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier to figure out whether Minnesotans mounted presidential campaigns more often than people from other states. The answer was a resounding “yes.”

Since 1972, which political scientists consider the start of the modern primary era, Minnesota candidates have led 14 presidential campaigns, behind only Texas, California and New York — states that are all much bigger population-wise.

Similarly-sized Wisconsin, by contrast, fielded just two campaigns during the same time period.

Unfortunately, we must note that not a single one of the Minnesota campaigns was successful. Only one candidate — Walter Mondale — managed to clinch a party’s nomination, and he went on to lose every single state, with the exception of Minnesota, to Ronald Reagan in 1984. 

The worst of respiratory virus season is behind us

The latest data from American Public Media’s Research Lab shows that hospitalizations for COVID-19, influenza and RSV have all been on the downswing for several weeks. 

All three indicators peaked during the last week of 2023, when there were 606 COVID-19 hospital admissions. For comparison, that’s less than one-third of the state’s all-time COVID high-water mark set back in November of 2020, when more than 1,800 were hospitalized during the worst week.

Only about 21% of Minnesotans are completely up-to-date with their COVID vaccinations, although among those age 65 and older the rate is 59%, proving the wisdom of our elders.