As governors and federal lawmakers from oil-producing states press the EPA for waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard, a national environmental group has asked for a waiver based on alleged environmental damage inflicted by the RFS.
The National Wildlife Federation expressed support for other waiver requests at the end of last week, in a letter from NWF Chief Executive Officer and President Collin O'Mara to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
"We and others have repeatedly urged your agency to invoke the environmental harm waiver or use its general waiver authority to reduce blending requirements through formal comments and testimony during the annual RVO-setting process," the letter said.
"We now take this opportunity to restate our concerns in light of the pending request for relief."
O'Mara said in the letter there have been "mounting reports" of environmental damage caused by a growing corn and soybeans demand to produce biofuels since the RFS became law.
Pointing to a 2018 report published by the EPA, the letter said "additional crop demand led farmers to plant millions of new acres -- primarily of corn." O'Mara said this led to less wildlife habitat and water filtration, and more application and erosion of chemical fertilizers that "end up polluting" waterways.
"While the report declined to draw a direct connection between observed land use change and the RFS, subsequent research establishes that the policy is directly responsible for a substantial portion of this conversion and the related, negative environmental impacts," the letter said.
From 2008 to 2012, O'Mara said 7.3 million acres of land were converted into cropland, with grasslands accounting for 77% of all conversion.
"The conversion of these native prairies impacts cherished wildlife populations such as waterfowl, prairie chickens, and monarch butterflies and many others through habitat loss, degradation, or fragmentation," the letter said.
"In short, the corn ethanol mandate has led to the loss of important wildlife habitat, particularly in regions critical for monarch butterflies, ducks and other ground-nesting birds, and many other species—threatening outdoor recreation opportunities as well as the economy. The mandate has also resulted in deteriorated water quality and harmful algal blooms in important surface waters as a result of increased farm runoff. Increasing mandated blending levels increases the potential for further land conversion, presenting a marked threat to the battle against global climate change, with its consequent catastrophic effects on human health and the environment. Higher blends of ethanol necessitated by unrealistic RVOs diminish public health."
Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Cooper said in a statement to DTN it was "ironic" for an environmental group to side with the oil industry.
"Maybe NWF should instead take a look at the water quality, air quality, and wildlife habitat impacts of fracking and burning fossil fuels," he said.
"Low-carbon renewable fuels like ethanol have been proven to reduce greenhouse gas and tailpipe pollution significantly in comparison to petroleum-based fuels. These renewable fuels are produced from feedstocks grown sustainably on farms across America. When it comes to land use, for example, in the decade since the Renewable Fuel Standard was expanded in 2007, EPA data show that total U.S. cropland decreased by 7%.
"We encourage NWF to get involved with agriculture on the field, rather than nit-picking the farm sector's remarkable efforts from the bleachers."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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