Environmentalists, farmers, conservatives and liberals may not always find common ground, but these unlikely allies do agree on one thing: the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is broken — broken in many ways, for many people. The extent of the problem wasn’t apparent a decade ago, but now we can clearly see the unintended consequences of the RFS.
Don’t believe us? Environmental reporter David Biello and Detroit Public TV teamed up to produce “The Ethanol Effect,” an hour-long documentary highlighting “the human, environmental and political costs of growing and refining corn for ethanol in America.”
From the prairies of North Dakota, to the busy halls of the Capitol, “The Ethanol Effect” shares some of the most riveting and shocking stories of the broken RFS.
Meet Zac Browning, a beekeeper in North Dakota whose honey business is the second-largest in America. He has seen first-hand a decline in the natural, diverse habitat that bees use for forage as a result of the expansion of corn grown to meet the ethanol mandates. Corn fields are deserts for bees — they cannot get food from corn plants. As Browning states, “North Dakota is kind of the last beekeeping frontier in America. There isn’t any other place to go.” Browning believes the expansion of corn crops could mean the end of commercial beekeeping, which could be serious threat to our natural resources and the U.S. food supply.
And the voices of beekeepers aren’t the only ones ringing out of North Dakota. John Devney, vice president at Delta Waterfowl, shares just how devastating the RFS has become for ducks. Devney explains that wetlands are “the universe for breeding ducks.” If their habitats continue to be drained to make room for corn to meet the RFS, the result could be a decline in the duck population.
Other researchers, namely environmentalists, who study the effects of the RFS are also speaking up. “Corn ethanol is bad for your water and it’s bad for the climate, and it’s bad for the American landscape,” said Emily Cassidy, a research analyst at the Environmental Working Group. Corn is the largest crop taking up land that used to be natural prairies and other farms. The irony is that the RFS, which was designed with an original goal of improving the environment, is instead increasing greenhouse gas emissions and causing more harm to the country by encouraging the conversion of conservation land and prairies.
In our nation’s Capitol, Democrats and Republicans are teaming up to fight for reform of the RFS. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) says, “even if you’re a climate change activist like I am, and you thought maybe that ethanol would be a way to using something to create a cleaner fuel, it’s not working. So I think those of us who are strong for farming have to acknowledge there’s a conflict there.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is also concerned for his constituents: “My district is a huge user of corn and other grains to feed their livestock. It’s one of the largest poultry producing districts in the country.” This matter has high importance for Reps. Goodlatte, Welch and many others from both sides of the aisle who are concerned the RFS may affect the safety of their state, district and constituents.
From farmers to environmentalists, scientists to politicians from both parties — fixing this broken policy is truly everyone’s fight.