Scientists: RFS Land Use Claims False

Scientists Push Court to Reject Land-Use Change Arguments in RFS Lawsuit

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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A group of eight scientists have intervened in a federal lawsuit on the Renewable Fuel Standard that brings into question the land-use effects of the law. (DTN file photo by Jim Patrico)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Eight scientists told a federal appeals court last week that claims made in a lawsuit that the Renewable Fuel Standard has led to the loss of habitat for endangered species and loss of grasslands are untrue.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in July 2023 challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's so-called RFS set rule that finalized biofuels volumes for multiple years,….

The scientists intervened in the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 3, 2024.

"There is no compelling scientific evidence linking the RFS to the conversion of grasslands and loss of biodiversity," the scientists said in a brief.

"Research based on misclassifications of land use and flawed assumptions and methodologies spurred skepticism about the environmental and GHG emission reduction benefits of biofuels but that research has since been disproven."

The scientists said that analyses based on "more complete, updated data" found that the average carbon intensity of biofuels is "significantly less" than conventional gasoline.

"Over time, as technologies and practices advance and with various incentives the federal government has put into place, that benefit is expected to continue growing at an accelerated pace," they said in a brief.

"Although the EPA conservatively referenced some of the outdated and inaccurate research, petitioners' arguments based on that research necessarily inherit its flaws."

Biofuel groups including the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy also have intervened in the lawsuit.

The scientists intervening in the case include Steffen Mueller with the Bioenergy and Transportation Emissions Research Group at the University of Illinois Chicago; David Clay, distinguished professor of soil science at South Dakota State University; Kenneth Copenhaver, former scientist at NASA and founder of CropGrower LLC; Isaac Emery, consultant and project director at WSP USA; Stephen Kaffka, professor emeritus of cooperative extension at the University of California Davis; Madhu Khanna, ACES distinguished professor in environmental economics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; and Keith Kline, distinguished scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


The Center for Biological Diversity alleged the EPA failed to complete Endangered Species Act consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service in setting the RFS volumes for 2023 to 2025.

In particular, the center's lawsuit relies on studies by University of Wisconsin researcher Tyler Lark, and others, to suggest the RFS has caused habitat loss and conversion of grasslands into cropland,….

Those studies have been debunked by other scientists and biofuel groups.

Among the findings in Lark's study was that expanded ethanol production from the RFS led to more conversion of grasslands not previously farmed to cropland.

Countering Lark's take, the eight scientists said in their amicus brief that the claims in the center's lawsuit are "divorced from scientific evidence and reality" and "based on outdated, flawed, and disproven research."

During the past 20 years, the eight scientists have conducted peer-reviewed research on land use and biofuels lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis.

"Neither biofuel production nor the RFS has been scientifically linked to the conversion of 'natural' lands, such as native prairies, forests, and wetlands, to crop production," the scientists said in the brief.

"Experts in the field of biomass and agricultural economics have demonstrated that much of the outlier research was based on flawed assumptions and methods related to land use."

They said the reality is biofuels such as ethanol have reduced GHG emissions.


The amicus brief said there is a body of recent research that contradicts Lark's previous work, including a new study showing that more than 98% of the land claimed by Lark to be "converted" from "native lands" to cropland had actually been previously engaged in crop production.

In addition, at the end of June, the EPA filed a brief in the case saying the agency's own analysis of potential land-use effects impacts "found all potential effects to be either discountable, insignificant, or both."

RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper said in a statement on Monday, "As we pointed out last week, the walls are closing in around the Center for Biological Diversity, Tyler Lark, the National Wildlife Federation, and other anti-biofuel activists who perpetuate the ridiculous land-use change myth. In his newest work, even Lark is now admitting that U.S. cropland continued to shrink as biofuels production expanded."

Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said in a news release the scientists provide "a clear-eyed and honest assessment of the environmental profile of biofuel production" and that it was time for environmental advocates to "stop parroting fossil fuel companies" and to support biofuels.

Read Lark's May 29, 2024, study here:….

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Todd Neeley

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