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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.

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.’”

The Ethanol Mandate’s Effect on Farmers

Lucas Deniz of Deniz Dairy, a family-run farm in Petaluma, California, said that the Renewable Fuel Standard — America’s ever-increasing prescription for biofuels — has been financially devastating due to skyrocketing feed costs caused by increased demand from biofuels producers for corn.

And he’s not the only farmer experiencing hardship since this policy has been enacted. Here’s a shocking stat for you: the median U.S. farm income is negative $1,453.

But if you listen to the ethanol lobby, you’d never know that family farmers are hurting.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), despite its original intentions to protect our environment and increase corn prices, has become just another form of corporate welfare, benefiting ethanol producers while average farms struggle to remain competitive.

In order to cash in on high crop prices driven by the ethanol mandate, famers across the country have converted millions of acres of land to corn fields and abandoned other less in-demand crops. After years of land conversion America now finds itself with a glut of corn, pulling the prices of the commodity back down.

Thanks to mandated demand and low input costs, ethanol producers are experiencing record profits while average farmers struggle.

We like farmers, in fact almost one-third of our coalition represents farmers, but this policy only helps big business and its negative environmental consequences continue to manifest across the country — it’s time to end the failing policy.

Friday RFS Roundup – 8/29

Late last week, the news was broken that the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 RFS proposal had finally made its way to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). While we prepared ourselves for the final 90 days of deliberation, we heard predictions for the mandate and learned a bit about the economics of the policy.

  • The Economics of Biofuels:

    In Short:
    t would appear that the dream of growing the fuel required to keep the engines of industry humming — as well as the engines that enable many of our leisure pursuits — is simply too good to be true.”
  • Final Lobbying Push on 2014 RFS Begins; Analysts Say Significant Increases Unlikely:

    In Short: “Only “marginal” increases are expected when the Office of Management and Budget wraps up its review of the EPA proposal, which would require petroleum importers and refiners to blend a total of 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels into their products, Timothy T. Cheung of ClearView Energy Partners told Bloomberg BNA. That’s nearly 3 billion gallons less than the 18.15 billion gallons required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Pub. L. No. 110-140).

    ‘EPA is likely to stick with the proposed framework,’ said Cheung, who serves as a vice president and research analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.”

Friday RFS Roundup – 8/22

The big news from late this week is that the Environmental Protection Agency, now almost 9 months late on delivering the 2014 ethanol mandate, has finally passed the proposal along to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. In 90 days or less, we should have a rule.

Learn more from this week:

  • OPIS, EPA Spokeswoman: Final 2014 RFS Sent to OMB for Review: The EPA's proposed 2014 RFS, which was issued in November 2013, called for cuts to the ethanol mandate in an acknowledgment of the blend wall. We’ll see just how their proposal has changed in the last 10 months.

    In Short: “’After an extensive public outreach process, we've received 340,000 comments that will help inform our final determinations. EPA will issue a final rulemaking after the interagency review process has been completed.... The agency's overarching goal is to put the RFS program on a path that supports continued growth in renewable fuels over time,’ the spokeswoman added.”

    “Kevin Book, managing director of Clearview Energy Partners, explained, ‘[our] base case projects that EPA could set the total ethanol requirement to less than 13.6 billion gal [less than the 14.4 billion gal as originally prescribed] and maintain the biomass-based diesel requirement at 1.28 billion gal.’”
  •, KiOR News Underscores Problems With Renewable Energy Industrial Policy: A guest post from Dave Juday, commodity market analyst and principal of The Juday Group, takes a look at the failing history of KiOR, once touted as the most successful U.S. biofuels producer.

    In Short: “Government mandates like RFS, subsidies, loan guarantees, and investments have not proven any better than the market for developing new energy resources – just much more costly.”
  • Midwest Energy News, Boating industry not backing down in Chicago E15 fight: The city of Chicago and the 13,000 or so boats that call it home, are in the midst of an ethanol debate. On July 28, after a five-hour committee hearing, the Chicago City Council decided not to advance the E15 ordinance, which would require all gas stations in the city to sell the ethanol blend. The region’s boating industry is sticking to its guns and pushing back on the ordinance which will likely come up again at hearing in the coming months.

    In Short: “Ethanol can be more corrosive and burns hotter than gasoline, so the higher ethanol blend can damage gaskets, valves and seals in engines not built to handle it. Warranties for boat engines typically are invalidated if E15 gas is used, according to David Dickerson, director of state government relations for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.”

    “If you fill up with E15 your boat engine will run rough, it’s going to be hard to start, and to restart, if you are out on the water and kill the engine,” Dickerson said. “Those are significant when you’re boating rather than driving. Being caught out on the water with no engine can be very dangerous, not just annoying.”

Friday RFS Roundup – 8/15

As the Environmental Protection Agency — now more than eight months later on delivering the 2014 rule — and Congress step away from the Hill, Americans, refiners and farmers alike continue to wait for movement from Washington on the ethanol mandate. This week, the media focused on some of the long-term effects the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is having on food supply and our environment.

Learn more from this week:

Orange County Register, Andrew Purzder: U.S. needs corn for food more than for fuel: Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants (Carl’s Jr.), explains how the ethanol mandate, which turns food into fuel, is hurting everyday Americans.

In Short: “Consumers experience the cost impact in their grocery stores and local restaurants. The RFS is particularly burdensome for restaurant franchisees, who are generally small-business owners operating with slim profit margins – sometimes just pennies on the dollar. With the RFS still in place, the increased cost of proteins restricts their ability to keep prices down and reduces the monies that otherwise would be available to support their communities, renovate facilities, open new locations or hire new employees.

A 2012 study by PricewaterhouseCooper commissioned by the National Council of Chain Restaurants to understand the impact of ethanol policies on chain-restaurant food costs, estimates that if the 2015 RFS mandate increased ethanol production by 6 billion gallons per year, it would increase commodity costs for chain restaurants by $3.2 billion per year. For quick-service restaurants alone, the estimated increase would be $2.5 billion per year.”

The Des Moines Register, We can’t let agriculture destroy our environment: Increased fertilizer runoff from expanding corn crops is causing even the people who benefit most from the RFS, Iowans, to question the policy’s legitimacy. 

In Short: “When a city has to stop drinking its water, something is seriously out of kilter.
Iowa could take steps to avoid that fate by limiting how much fertilizer farming operations use. Instead, Iowa lets them decide whether to voluntarily reduce nitrogen and phosphorus use — the sources of "toxic blooms" of algae. That isn't working.

Let's be realistic: If it's left to them, industries are likely to do what's easiest and costs them the least, which probably won't be in the best interests of residents and consumers.”

Green Builder Media, Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute: Food Scarcity and Political Strategy: Environmental expert and founder of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown, cites biofuels policies like the ethanol mandate as one reason the world is in a time of transition from a time of food surplus to one of food scarcity.

In Short: “Increasing use of grain to fuel vehicles is also straining our food supply. 400 million tons of grain are harvested in the U.S. each year. Of that amount, 130 million tons are allocated to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars (the US has the highest level of grain use for transportation in the world).

… Using our precious food resource for transportation isn’t an efficient application for an already strained supply.”

What’s in your water? Ethanol mandates.

Last week, half a million people in Ohio were left without drinking water because of severe toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, primarily caused by fertilizer runoff

Increased fertilizer runoff is just another unintended consequence of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that’s doing more harm to the environment that good. (For those of you catching up, the RFS is a government policy that mandates that ethanol fuel made from corn be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply.)

As the level of ethanol mandated grows each year, more land acreage is devoted to grow corn to make it. In fact, farms across the Midwest, including Ohio, have converted an additional 13.5 million acres to grow corn.

Unfortunately, corn happens to be an incredibly water and fertilizer intensive crop. Phosphorous, the element in fertilizer that is causing the algae bloom, is carried with rain from the farm land and ground water into nearby lakes and streams — and it’s happening in more than just Ohio.

The image below shows the path that fertilizer is taking from some of our top corn producing states, like Iowa and Minnesota, into the Gulf of Mexico and causing what is known as the “dead zone.”

The dead zone is a pocket of low-oxygen water that forms off the coast of Louisiana every summer, and could stretch from Alabama to South Texas this year, threatening 18 percent of the U.S. commercial seafood market.

Even Iowans, who benefit most from this policy, are starting to ask, “Are we prepared to sit back and leave our quality of life, our natural resources and our health up to the goodwill of Iowa's agricultural producers?”

Unfortunately the Administration is slow-moving on fixing this policy, but Congress can change this legislation. Join us to call for swift action from your representatives when they’re back on the hill.