What is the Renewable Fuel Standard?

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), also known as ethanol mandates, is a policy that forces increasing amounts of biofuels into the U.S. fuel supply. Every year, the EPA — the agency in charge of administering the policy — decides how much biofuel has to be blended that year by setting an annual target.

Why was the RFS enacted?

Congress enacted the ethanol mandates (RFS) in 2005 and then aggressively expanded them in 2007 with the hopes that turning corn into fuel, in place of regular gasoline, would help the environment.

Does it work?

Ethanol mandates (RFS) don’t work. In fact, it may just be the most broken policy in America.

Broken mandates destroy the environment.

Take for instance the fact that since they were enacted, ethanol mandates have not only failed to protect the environment, but have actually caused more damage.

Today, most of the ethanol produced in the United States is made from corn. Unfortunately, many studies have shown that corn ethanol actually increases emissions and worsens air quality. How? Because farmers are plowing up millions of acres of land to grow corn, releasing so many emissions in the process that our emissions will double over 30 years.

But that’s not the only way ethanol mandates hurt the environment. Increased corn production also means greater use of fertilizers and other farm chemicals, which in turn run off and pollute our waterways. In fact, chemical runoff from corn cropland is the single largest source of pollution to the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” — an area of water the size of Connecticut that is so polluted that it can’t sustain any aquatic life.

On top of polluting our water systems, corn ethanol production wastes a lot of water. For example, corn requires more irrigation water than any other U.S. crop — more than 15 million acre-feet annually or the size of the Great Salt Lake. The United Nations warns that if we continue to grow corn for ethanol mandates at the rate we’re going, nearly 1 in 10 gallons of water in America will be used up by biofuel crops by 2030. And corn ethanol production consumes 20 times more water than gasoline production. 

Ten years after this policy was enacted, the evidence is in. Ethanol mandates have not only failed to reduce emissions, they have actually left our environment worse off than if we never put the policy in place at all.

Why should I care?

Because it’s raising gas prices.

Ethanol mandates hurt drivers. Almost all of the gasoline sold in the United States today contains 10 percent ethanol (E10), which contains a third less energy than gasoline. As a result, each gallon of gasoline delivers lower mileage, forcing drivers to spend more money on fuel by the mile.

Because it’s ruining your engines.

And if that doesn’t burn a hole in your wallet, higher ethanol blends — like gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol (E15) — can wreak havoc on engines by causing corrosion, rubber swelling and other damages. The risk is so high that 13 major manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler and Honda — the top five best-selling automakers in the America — warn that their warranties won’t cover damages related to E15 use, potentially leaving consumers high and dry with costly repairs.

Because it’s raising your grocery bills.

Because most of the ethanol used to satisfy our ethanol mandates comes from corn, 40 percent of the crop is now used to feed our gas tanks instead of people. That means less corn is available for livestock, poultry and dairy farmers to produce our food. As the cost of animal feed goes up, so too does the cost of our groceries. In 2012, American families paid $2,000 more for their food.

Everyone is affected by the negative consequences of the broken ethanol mandates. Check out our Resources Center to learn more.

How can I help?

Ethanol mandates were created by Congress, and we won't have a permanent solution until Congress cleans up the mess it created. Click here to tell your elected officials that you've had enough, and it's time to fix this broken policy.

Want to get even more involved? Visit our Action Center to find all the ways you can help to get this broken policy fixed for good.