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24 Ethanol Realities

Proponents of the ethanol mandate (known as the RFS, or Renewable Fuel Standard) promised Americans that their plan would save the environment; that making 10 percent of America’s fuel from the water, pesticide and land-intensive corn they grow would lower emissions and protect the land.

But 10 years later, America’s premier “environmental” policy is actually doing more harm to the environment than good.

In honor of Al Gore’s “24 Hours of Reality,” focused on climate change, we wanted to share some hard truths about ethanol fuel:

Turning wild lands into industrial biofuel fields

1. Between 2008 and 2011, eight million acres of grassland, shrub land and wetland were plowed under to grow corn, dramatically increasing carbon emissions by 85 million to 236 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases per year. — Environmental Working Group
2. Global energy use from all sources is currently about 250 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. Therefore, biofuels are providing less than one-half of 1 percent of the world's energy needs. And in doing so, they are requiring a land area more than twice the size of California. - Bloomberg
3. Meeting the RFS mandate for advanced cellulosic biofuel in 2014 will require 4.8 million acres of land; in 2022, 44 million acres. - Colorado State University
4. To produce 20 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol, 16-19 million acres of land is required for non-residue feedstocks. -- Biomass Research and Development Initiative
5. Producing enough cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass to displace one million barrels of oil per day would require switchgrass to be planted on 25 million acres of land — an area about the size of Kentucky. – AEI

Consuming and polluting precious water resources

6. It takes five gallons of water to refine one gallon of gasoline; 146 gallons for one gallon of E10 containing cellulosic ethanol; 170 gallon for one gallon of E10 containing corn-based ethanol. -- University of Colorado
7. Nearly 1 in 10 gallons — nine percent — of all water consumed in the United States will go toward biofuel production by 2030. -- United Nations
8. Eighty-seven percent of irrigated corn is grown in regions with high or extremely high water stress. — Ceres
9. Corn uses the most fertilizer of all major U.S. crops, more than half of all commercial fertilizer applied to U.S. cropland (195 pounds of fertilizer per acre of corn). -- Ceres
10. Nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas that is released from the fertilizers used to grow corn, has 298 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. – Environmental Working Group
11. Nitrogen run-off from U.S. corn acres damages lakes, streams and groundwater and is the single largest source of pollution to the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” — an area the size of Connecticut — and the second largest source of impairments to wetlands. — Ceres

Raising emissions

12. Even if corn ethanol caused no emissions except those from land-use change, overall GHGs would still increase over a 30-year period. – Science Magazine
13. Corn-based ethanol nearly doubles GHG emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. – Science Magazine
14. The loss of trees cleared to make room for new biofuel crops increases emissions. – MIT
15. If GHG emissions from the indirect land use changes are considered, the environmental impact of E85 (a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) is, on average, 33% greater than that of gasoline. – Environmental Science and Technology
16. “Corn ethanol has not only been a disaster for consumers, the hungry and for most farmers, it has also been a disaster for the environment. We have lost more wetlands and grasslands in the last four years than we have in the last 40 years.” – Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group
17. Despite statements from the EPA saying the RFS is intended to stimulate second generation biofuels, corn ethanol still fulfills 80 percent of the mandate.
18. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase GHG emissions by 50 percent. – Science Magazine
19. Converting American corn fields to grow switchgrass would trigger emissions from land-use change that would take 52 years to pay back and increase emissions by 50 percent over a period of 30 years. – Science Magazine
20. Fueling an ethanol plant with switchgrass would require delivering a semi-truckload of the grass every six minutes, 24 hours a day, which adds to emissions associated with ethanol development. -- Rolling Stone
21. Use and production of biomass ethanol is projected to result in a higher release of air pollutants, such as ozone and sulfur oxide, than petroleum-based fuels. -- National Academy of Sciences
22. Ethanol burned in an engine produces more than twice as much ozone as the equivalent amount of gasoline. – The Economist
23. Expanding biofuels feedstock production on marginal lands compete with wildlife and fowl habitat. -- Congressional Research Service
24. "Ethanol use does little to prevent global warming and environmental deterioration, and clear-headed policy reforms could be urgently carried out, if American politics would permit it." – Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize-winning economist

Oh, and speaking of Former Vice President Gore, here’s what he has to say about the ethanol mandate:

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol. The benefits of ethanol are trivial but it's hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going."

The White House needs a reality check—it’s time for ethanol mandates to stop posing as sound environmental policy.

Friday RFS Roundup – 9/12

This week, the media focused some of its attention on a new cellulosic biofuels plant that came online in Iowa. While we may have taken one step closer to new kinds of biofuels, we have heard this story before, and there is still a great deal of concern about the impacts of the so-called “clean” fuel.

More from this week:

  • Huffington Post Green: Cellulosic Ethanol: Firsts, Failures, Myths and Risks:

    In Short: “Corn ethanol was initially lauded as a path to reduce emissions from transportation, but has since proven to be a path to hunger, biodiversity loss, increased greenhouse gas emissions, water eutrophication and more.

    Do we need to keep repeating history in pursuit of the myth that we can substitute living plant biomass for fossil? Is it not already clear that we desperately need to protect soils, waterways, forests and ecosystems? Is it not obvious that with a rapidly expanding population to feed, escalating climate impacts and dwindling resources, biofuels are a flagrant and dangerous waste?”
  • National Geographic: "Fantasy" of Fuel From Corn Waste Gets Big U.S. Test:

    In Short: “Some have worries about the impact that a growing cellulosic ethanol industry could have on agricultural land. Craig Cox, senior vice president for agricultural and natural resources for the Environmental Working Group in Ames, Iowa, expressed concern that if cellulosic ethanol takes off, corn stover might be harvested in a way that's unsustainable.

    Cox said that the same claims now being made about cellulosic ethanol—good for the environment, good for farmers, good for American energy security—were also made about corn-kernel ethanol, and he said they were wrong. ‘I don't see how we've really changed the policy landscape. And it looks like we're not going to change the physical landscape in ways that would make a huge contribution to larger environmental issues surrounding agriculture,’ he said.”
  • Montgomery Advertiser: Ethanol mandate no longer sound policy:

    In Short: “When Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, many saw it as an environmentally friendly answer to growing dependence on foreign oil. The idea was to replace some gasoline with mandated amounts of corn-derived ethanol in our vehicles. It did not work out that way, from both environmental and cost standpoints.”

Good Intentions, Failed Policy

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.

The ethanol mandate is just another case of good intentions gone wrong, but thankfully reform has bipartisan support. Tell Congress we need swift action on the RFS.

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Legislative Updates will be coming soon.

A Coalition Against Bad Policy

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again… the ethanol mandate is everyone’s problem.

Oil refiners do oppose the ethanol mandate (primarily because of the looming blend wall), but they are hardly the only ones who take issue with the policy. Environmentalists, taxpayers, food producers, consumer protection groups of all types, anti-hunger advocates and even farmers have all spoken out against the RFS.

This year alone, our coalition has joined arms with even more poultry farmers who are struggling to feed their flocks due to the skyrocketing price of feed; gasoline retailers forced to stock a fuel that consumers neither know about nor want; and outdoor equipment groups grappling to find fuel that won’t damage their small engines.

On Thursday, April 10, Congressman Pete Welch (D-VT), Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, Rob Green of the National Council of Chain Restaurants and others will discuss how the ethanol mandate is impacting all Americans in an event hosted by The Hill Magazine in Washington, DC. You can watch the event on The Hill’s website or join the conversation on Twitter using #TheHillLive and #RFS2014.

The price you pay

NBC Nightly News shone a light this week on rising food prices that are impacting consumers across the United States.

While Brian Williams and the gang focused on the drought in California, it is important to note that these recent price increases are part of a longer-term trend.  Beef, poultry, milk and cheese prices have all been on the rise for nearly a decade—in fact, food prices are up 17.8 percent.

With the introduction of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, the demand for ethanol increased making it more and more difficult for ranchers to feed their herds. By increasing the competition for and price of corn, the ethanol mandate has unintentionally been driving up the cost at the grocery store. By 2022, the RFS will increase food costs for Americans by $3 billion—annually—according to the Congressional Research Service.

And now the drought, which has been affecting various parts of the country since 2012, is making what is already bad, worse.

We can’t change the weather, but we can make changes to this failing policy. Tell Congress it’s time for a real solution.

Ghosts of Ethanol Past, Present and Future

In the holiday classic A Christmas Carol, the cold-hearted, greedy Ebenezer Scrooge is given a glimpse at his Christmas past, present and future. In our version of the story, we’re going to let you peek at ethanol’s ghosts.

Ethanol Past

While opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (the government’s ethanol mandates policy)is growing today, some have been wary of diverting food to fuel for decades. An article published by Nicholas Wade in 1979 reveals some of the early concerns:

“The rule of thumb in Iowa is that a 1 percent decrease in corn supply raises corn prices by 2 percent.”

Yet today, we divert more than 40 percent of our corn crops to ethanol, and we’ve felt the results in corn prices from the butcher to the baker.

Further, government has been subsidizing “gasohol” for years. In 1979, the going rate was 40 cents per gallon of E10 (a fuel blend containing ten percent ethanol).

And the final lesson from the ghost of ethanol past is this: we’ve been hoping for cellulosic biofuels forever. More on that later…

Ethanol Present

Unfortunately, the realities of today’s ethanol mandate (the RFS) are no better. Refiners, environmentalists, ranchers, world hunger groups, wildlife advocates, journalists and even the Environmental Protection Agency all take issue with one part of the policy or another.

Ethanol Future

All wounds heal with time, right? Actually, no, according to Energy Information Administration. Despite   the ethanol lobby promising that cellulosic (non-corn) biofuels are “just around the corner,” the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) annual American Energy Outlook report tells us that even by 2040, it is unlikely that we’ll be anywhere close to the mandated level of cellulosics.

This means decades more subsidies for the industry and continued reliance on corn to meet the ethanol mandate.

Just like Scrooge, it’s time for Congress to see the error in its ways.

Tell your Congressman to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard.

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Smarter Fuel Future Advocates’ Ethanol Warning Labels

From Barbara T.



From Bill S.



From Bradford T.



From David A.



From Dudley D.



From Edward G.



From Franklin M.



From Howard S.



From Linda R.



From Lisa W.



From Lucinda S.



From Marilyn L.



From Mary O.



From Mike R.



From Patricia C.



Phillip R.



From Tom K.



From Walter E.



From William T.
 

 

Comparing the Ethanol Mandate with Projected Ethanol Demand

Consumer Price Index Since Ethanol Mandate

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Corn Ethanol is Not a Renewable Fuel

Broken Promises of the Ethanol Mandate

The Real Cost of the Ethanol Mandate

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24 Ethanol Realities

Proponents of the ethanol mandate (known as the RFS, or Renewable Fuel Standard) promised Americans that their plan would save the environment; that making 10 percent of America’s fuel from the water, pesticide and land-intensive corn they grow would lower emissions and protect the land.

But 10 years later, America’s premier “environmental” policy is actually doing more harm to the environment than good.

In honor of Al Gore’s “24 Hours of Reality,” focused on climate change, we wanted to share some hard truths about ethanol fuel:

Turning wild lands into industrial biofuel fields

1. Between 2008 and 2011, eight million acres of grassland, shrub land and wetland were plowed under to grow corn, dramatically increasing carbon emissions by 85 million to 236 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases per year. — Environmental Working Group
2. Global energy use from all sources is currently about 250 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. Therefore, biofuels are providing less than one-half of 1 percent of the world's energy needs. And in doing so, they are requiring a land area more than twice the size of California. - Bloomberg
3. Meeting the RFS mandate for advanced cellulosic biofuel in 2014 will require 4.8 million acres of land; in 2022, 44 million acres. - Colorado State University
4. To produce 20 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol, 16-19 million acres of land is required for non-residue feedstocks. -- Biomass Research and Development Initiative
5. Producing enough cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass to displace one million barrels of oil per day would require switchgrass to be planted on 25 million acres of land — an area about the size of Kentucky. – AEI

Consuming and polluting precious water resources

6. It takes five gallons of water to refine one gallon of gasoline; 146 gallons for one gallon of E10 containing cellulosic ethanol; 170 gallon for one gallon of E10 containing corn-based ethanol. -- University of Colorado
7. Nearly 1 in 10 gallons — nine percent — of all water consumed in the United States will go toward biofuel production by 2030. -- United Nations
8. Eighty-seven percent of irrigated corn is grown in regions with high or extremely high water stress. — Ceres
9. Corn uses the most fertilizer of all major U.S. crops, more than half of all commercial fertilizer applied to U.S. cropland (195 pounds of fertilizer per acre of corn). -- Ceres
10. Nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas that is released from the fertilizers used to grow corn, has 298 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. – Environmental Working Group
11. Nitrogen run-off from U.S. corn acres damages lakes, streams and groundwater and is the single largest source of pollution to the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” — an area the size of Connecticut — and the second largest source of impairments to wetlands. — Ceres

Raising emissions

12. Even if corn ethanol caused no emissions except those from land-use change, overall GHGs would still increase over a 30-year period. – Science Magazine
13. Corn-based ethanol nearly doubles GHG emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. – Science Magazine
14. The loss of trees cleared to make room for new biofuel crops increases emissions. – MIT
15. If GHG emissions from the indirect land use changes are considered, the environmental impact of E85 (a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) is, on average, 33% greater than that of gasoline. – Environmental Science and Technology
16. “Corn ethanol has not only been a disaster for consumers, the hungry and for most farmers, it has also been a disaster for the environment. We have lost more wetlands and grasslands in the last four years than we have in the last 40 years.” – Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group
17. Despite statements from the EPA saying the RFS is intended to stimulate second generation biofuels, corn ethanol still fulfills 80 percent of the mandate.
18. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase GHG emissions by 50 percent. – Science Magazine
19. Converting American corn fields to grow switchgrass would trigger emissions from land-use change that would take 52 years to pay back and increase emissions by 50 percent over a period of 30 years. – Science Magazine
20. Fueling an ethanol plant with switchgrass would require delivering a semi-truckload of the grass every six minutes, 24 hours a day, which adds to emissions associated with ethanol development. -- Rolling Stone
21. Use and production of biomass ethanol is projected to result in a higher release of air pollutants, such as ozone and sulfur oxide, than petroleum-based fuels. -- National Academy of Sciences
22. Ethanol burned in an engine produces more than twice as much ozone as the equivalent amount of gasoline. – The Economist
23. Expanding biofuels feedstock production on marginal lands compete with wildlife and fowl habitat. -- Congressional Research Service
24. "Ethanol use does little to prevent global warming and environmental deterioration, and clear-headed policy reforms could be urgently carried out, if American politics would permit it." – Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize-winning economist

Oh, and speaking of Former Vice President Gore, here’s what he has to say about the ethanol mandate:

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol. The benefits of ethanol are trivial but it's hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going."

The White House needs a reality check—it’s time for ethanol mandates to stop posing as sound environmental policy.

Corn Ethanol is Not a Renewable Fuel

Broken Promises of the Ethanol Mandate

Show More