PITTSBURGH, PA (March 8) - Environmentalists, hunters, anglers, public health advocates, and small business owners in Pennsylvania called on the U.S. Congress to support bills introduced today in the House and Senate to fix the federal ethanol mandate, which has led to widespread habitat loss and water pollution, jeopardizing the health of people and wildlife.
“This bill represents a great step forward in our effort to support cleaner fuels and a cleaner environment,” said Ezra Thrush, Policy Director at PennFuture. “It’s a good deal for the people of Pennsylvania and all of our nation’s communities. Fixing the broken ethanol mandate will protect our health, wildlife, and water. We urge Congress to support and pass this bill.”
Known as the GREENER Fuels Act, the bill seeks to reform the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, which has led to a host of unintended consequences, from destruction of habitat to contribution to climate-disrupting pollution.
“As a sportsman, I applaud a bill that results in cleaner water and more habitat for wildlife. The environment and consumers have suffered from the RFS, and it is high time for a change,” said David Imgrund, a Pennsylvania resident and National Wildlife Federation Outreach Consultant.
The ethanol mandate, known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, is a federal program administered by the U.S. EPA that mandates gasoline including a minimum amount of alternative fuels — such as those derived from corn ethanol. The goal of the program — which ratchets up the volume of renewable fuels each year — is to move away from petroleum-derived gasoline. Unfortunately, the mandate has never lived up to its intentions.
The GREENER Fuels Act provides long-overdue reforms to the ethanol mandate, including:
- Reducing the amount of ethanol in our fuel by placing a firm cap on the blend level of 9.7 percent. (The fuel mix is currently slightly higher than 10 percent.)
- Winding down the corn ethanol mandate. Beginning in 2023, after the current statutory volumes end, the bill steps down the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply.
- Preventing the expansion of E15 (gasoline that is 15 percent ethanol).
- Funding to reverse the vast habitat damage over the last 13 years by investing more than $10 billion over 10 years to restore wildlife habitat that has been converted to crops and to prevent habitat from being destroyed.
- Protecting wildlife habitat by enforcing existing land protections that are supposed to prevent converted land from qualifying as a source of biofuel material.
- Helping confront climate change by eliminating a loophole that allows older biofuel plants to skirt climate pollution standards, halting the conversion of habitat for biofuel, and incentivizing advanced biofuels that lower climate disrupting pollution in our fuel supply.
- Preventing harmful or invasive species to be used as fuel.
The call for Congressional action comes as a host of diverse allies – conservation organizations, petroleum refiners, fast food franchises, boat and motorcycle engine manufacturers, and ranchers – join together to urge lawmakers to reform a law that has never lived up to its intentions.
Since the Renewable Fuel Standard was passed in 2007, more than 7 million acres of wildlife habitat has been converted into cropland—mostly corn to produce ethanol. The American prairie has been especially hard-hit—less than 10 percent of native grasslands remain. The accelerated conversion of farmland and loss of wildlife habitat and natural areas has also contributed to water pollution, including farm runoff-fueled harmful algal blooms like the 2014 bloom in Lake Erie that left more than 400,000 people without safe drinking water for three days, as well as the recurring dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico which has harmed wildlife and local economies dependent on fishing and seafood.
The law has also failed to curb climate-disrupting pollution—one of the original reasons for its passage. The ethanol mandate has actually contributed to climate change. The massive land conversion in the years immediately following enactment of the ethanol mandate produced climate-disrupting pollution equivalent to 20 million additional cars on the road each year.
The conversion of wetlands and grasslands to crops threatens many species, including waterfowl, upland birds, and pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies. This may also harm mammals such as the swift fox — a rangeland animal already considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
“Migratory birds like the short-eared owl spend time in Pennsylvania, but also rely on the diverse habitats in the Great Lakes for breeding, migration, and food. Unfortunately, the Renewable Fuel Standard has led to the destruction of millions of acres of grasslands and wetlands to make way for corn plantings,” said Chet Krcil, President of Washington County Sportsmen's and Conservation League. “It’s time to prohibit converting native habitat to cropland to grow corn and protect our crucial habitats.”
PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania, fighting big polluters with legal muscle, enforcing environmental laws, and supporting legislative policy that protects public health. PennFuture is engaging and educating citizens about the realities of climate change, and giving them the tools needed to influence lawmakers on the issues. Visit www.pennfuture.org for more information.
Stephanie Rex, Director of Communications, PennFuture