In theory, the government mandate requiring that ethanol fuel be blended into America’s gasoline supply was intended to spur energy independence, reduce emissions and jumpstart rural economic development. Unfortunately, in practice, the policy known as the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) has not only failed to deliver on its environmental goals, it has also spawned a host of unintended consequences, costing consumers and doing more environmental harm than good.
They say hindsight is 20/20, and a decade’s worth of policy and research has taught us that land, water and fertilizer-intensive corn ethanol fuel, which almost exclusively fulfills the mandate, really isn’t helping our environment. According to the Environmental Working Group, the Environmental Protection Agency’s pending proposal to lower the mandate would lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as taking 580,000 cars off the road for a year. And that’s not even considering the unintended land, habitat and water consequences that come with the policy as it stands.
After decades of increasing gasoline consumption, in 2007, Americans’ demand for gas peaked and even began to drop. Simultaneously, new technology allowed the United States to surpass countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran in oil production, driving us toward energy independence without any help from biofuels.
And yet, this outdated policy stands and will continue to cost taxpayers — and not just on April 15. Vox reported the Department of Energy has spent $385 million to fund six cellulosic, or “advanced,” ethanol plants. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office stated that if corn ethanol production increases to meet 2015 targets, corn, food and gas prices are likely to increase.