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Friday RFS Roundup – 9/26

This week, all eyes were on the Office of Management and Budget and their role in the implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard now that it is out of the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency.

More from this week:

•  OMB Should Uphold Proposed Rollback of 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Targets:

In Short: “Unfortunately, EPA is not an impartial umpire in controversies arising under the RFS. For EPA, the RFS is an important source of regulatory power, political patronage, and economic influence. Thus, in RFS policy battles, EPA’s interest more closely aligns with the corporate welfare of ethanol producers than with the consumer welfare of motorists, the economic viability of livestock producers, or the economic efficiency of refiners.”

Corn ethanol mandate does more harm than good:

In Short: “Americans are spending billions of dollars every year on ethanol as an ingredient in gasoline and diesel fuel. The uncomfortable truth is that this is a huge waste of money.”

Oddfellows at the Office of Management and Budget

Autumn is upon us, and the final numbers for the Renewable Fuel Standard – America’s ethanol mandate – for this year are still in the hands of the Administration, a problem for everyone from consumers to refiners and even ethanol producers.

Now that the rule has moved from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Office of Management and Budget, its final hurdle, many of the Smarter Fuel Future coalition have come together to discuss the wide-ranging consequences of the policy.

In addition to discussing individual concerns, the coalition presented OMB with a petition from nearly 13,000 SFF advocates calling for a lowered ethanol mandate.

Here’s what they had to say:

Emily S. Cassidy, Environmental Working Group:

Environmental Working Group supports EPA's proposed RVO, to reduce corn ethanol by 1.39 billion gallons. Implementing the proposed RVO would have the same carbon reduction benefit as taking 580,000 cars off the road for one year. By holding firm, the OMB can send a powerful signal to investors to support the development of second generation fuels that actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Nicole Wood, Boat US

We represent recreational boaters, not the marine industry, so we have a uniquely consumer end-user perspective. We commend EPA for addressing the current-day reality of our nation’s shrinking gasoline appetite. If we can reduce the pressure on gasoline to absorb unsafe levels of ethanol blends, we can greatly reduce unforeseen consumer safety issues. And for us at Boat US, keeping the mandate at a safe level is a clear issue of consumer safety.

Marlo Lewis, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Ever since EPA, in November 2013, proposed to cut back the 2014 RFS blending target from 18.15 billion gallons to 15.21 billion gallons, the agency has come under relentless pressure from the corn-ethanol lobby to withdraw the proposal.

Hints from EPA officials indicate the agency is in retreat. That is unfortunate. The existing 18.15 billion gallon target would compel refiners to buy billions of gallons more ethanol than can actually be sold as E10 (the highest blend compatible with today's fueling infrastructure, manufacturer liability and warranty policies, and consumer acceptance).

Refiners would either have to buy what they can’t sell or pay heavy fines and exorbitant prices for blender credits (RINs). Most of those costs would be passed on to consumers at the gas pump.

The political pressure on EPA to breach the blend wall – and the consequent peril to consumers – will only increase over time as RFS statutory targets ratchet up to 36 billion gallons in 2022.

Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth

This weekend I joined with over 300,000 people in New York City to demand action on climate change.  People came together from all over the country, and all over the world to make their voices heard.  Meeting the challenge of climate change means doing everything possible, as quickly as possible, to lower emissions. Time and speed are of the essence.  Lowering the volumes for corn ethanol—a fuel that remains dirtier than gasoline by the EPA’s own analysis—is an important place to start.

Using corn ethanol now means more climate-disrupting emissions in the short term, precisely when the greatest reductions are necessary.

Nan Smith, National Taxpayers Union

For a regulatory policy to draw the concerned attention of a wide and diverse variety of groups and citizens, it truly must be a failure on many different levels. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has proved to be such a failure, as its long list of unintended consequences ranges from impacting the price of fuel at the pump to food cost volatility.

Raising the renewable volume mandate during this time of slow-economic recovery and ongoing high unemployment would create undue stress on families and businesses without any substantive environmental benefit. OMB should approve a rule at or below the EPA’s proposed volumes giving Congress time to revisit the underlying legislation, rather than expose countless millions to more unintended consequences.

Kristin Sundell, Action Aid

At ActionAid, we’re already seeing the impact of US biofuel mandates in the countries where we work. The effects are twofold – direct increases in food prices as a result of food crops such as corn being used for fuel, and communities being pushed off their land to make way for biofuels plantations, losing their sources of food and income in the process.

Since the RFS was implemented, we have seen massive spikes in global food prices.  In 2008, the number of hungry people reached almost 1 billion. In 2012, we saw the highest corn prices in history. A number of factors led to these spikes, but artificially high and inflexible demand for biofuels was a significant contributor. Between a quarter and a third of recent increases in global grain prices is estimated to have resulted from biofuel expansion. Between 2005 and 2011, U.S. corn ethanol mandates alone were responsible for $6.6 billion in additional corn import costs for developing countries.  Across the African continent, the cost to some of the most food–insecure countries in the world was $1.6 billion.   

We therefore strongly support reducing the Renewable Volume Obligations for food-based biofuels within the RFS.

Former Senator Wayne Allard, American Motorcyclist Association

We support the realistic change in Renewable Fuel Standard and Renewable Volume Obligations for ethanol proposed by the EPA last fall. We oppose any attempt by the administration to backtrack from the EPA’s position for a number of reasons, and are very concerned when we hear that the EPA may change course and recommend a higher standard for 2014.

If the EPA reverses its position, the market will be forced to absorb larger supplies of fuels with ethanol blends in excess of 10 percent. The proliferation of these higher ethanol fuels, such as E15, creates a practical and a legal hazard for the estimated 11 million motorcycles currently in operation. No motorcycle on the road today has EPA approval to use fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol. If a motorcyclist should happen to inadvertently use E15 – a strong possibility given the confusing labeling and lax EPA enforcement – the action would void the vehicle warranty and place the motorcyclist in violation of federal law.

If you’ve felt the pain of this failing policy, join us in calling for long-term, Congressional action to reform the ethanol mandate.

Friday RFS Roundup - 9/19

This week, Al Gore hosted his “24 Hours of Reality,” which focused on climate change and the media discussed how the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is not only failing to help the environment, but may also be harming it.  

More from this week:

•  Earth Talk for Sept 15, 2014: Ethanol's Unrealized Promise:

In Short: “Ethanol and similar “biofuels” made from corn and other crops seem like a good idea given their potential for reducing our carbon outputs as well as our reliance on fossil fuels. But recent research has shown that the federal government’s push to up production of corn-derived ethanol as a gasoline additive since 2007 has actually expanded our national carbon footprint and contributed to a range of other problems.”

Renewable Fuel Standard: Running on Empty Rhetoric:

In Short: “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to release its latest quota for the amount of biofuel that must be added to gasoline. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions; in reality, the policy harms the environment by doing just the opposite. And by continuing to enforce the RFS, government officials are needlessly driving up prices for food and gasoline.

It’s time leaders admit that the RFS is a policy failure. When lawmakers created the RFS in 2005, they made two key assumptions that are now falsified.”

Are U.S. Biofuel Targets Putting Your Car's Engine at Risk?:

In Short: “Car engines are manufactured to burn gas and up to 10% ethanol. Anything above that level could harm auto engines. To suggest there would be a public outcry if ethanol mandates started to destroy car engines is an understatement.

Like so many other government rules, however, biofuel mandates weren't structured as a relative percentage of actual consumption. They were based on an expectation of ever-higher gas demand. That made sense until gas demand started to fall, a trend that has been in place for the last seven years, according to energy analyst Carmine Rositano of industry watcher GlobalData.”

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

The Real Cost of the Ethanol Mandate

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.

Friday RFS Roundup – 9/5

This week, following intense political pressure from the ethanol lobby, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Gina McCarthy suggested that the EPA will be increasing the ethanol quotas for 2014, above EPA’s original proposal.  As we know, a higher quota puts us on a collision course with the blend wall, playing a game of chicken with your gas prices, all while doing more harm to the environment than good.

More from this week:

EPA’s Renewable Fuel Quota May Rise as Gasoline Sales Climb:

In Short: “The EPA agreed with refiners who said they are limited in how much ethanol can be blended into the overall fuel supply…McCarthy’s comments today don’t indicate that the agency is rethinking its analysis of the blend-wall constraints, Cheung said.”

Report Highlights Corn Ethanol’s Devastating Toll:

In Short: “Corn-based ethanol is a major cause of the water pollution that is ravaging the Mississippi River basin and the Gulf of Mexico, a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) inspector general concluded this week (Sept. 4).

Citing a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the report by EPA’s internal watchdog office said that ‘expanding corn-based ethanol production would make the already difficult challenges of reducing nitrogen... impossible without large shifts in food production and agricultural management.’”