E&E News: Sportsmen leap into RFS debate over concerns about habitat, water quality

October 30, 2013

Amanda Peterka, Oct. 30- Sportsmen and their congressional backers say federal ethanol policy is destroying wildlife habitat and contributing to water quality problems.

Increased demand for corn ethanol spurred by the renewable fuel standard, which mandates yearly increasing levels of biofuel use, has spurred conversion to cropland of resources vital to hunting and fishing, panelists said yesterday at a briefing organized by the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.

A major concern, panelists said, is that ethanol use has degraded water quality in the Mississippi River watershed — the nation's largest.

“There is pressure out there to plant as much as possible because of the demand out there,” said Jim Inglis, governmental affairs representative at Pheasants Forever.

According to environmental groups, rural landowners converted more than 23 million acres of grasslands, wetlands and shrub lands to cropland between 2008 and 2011 due to government subsidies and high commodity prices prompted partly by the RFS. A study by

South Dakota State University earlier this year found that farmers in just the Corn Belt converted 1.3 million acres of grassland into cropland between 2006 and 2011, largely due to ethanol.

The conversion of lands has not only squeezed wildlife habitat but also heightened fertilizer runoff that contributes to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone — a sprawling area devoid of dissolved oxygen needed by marine life — said Larry McKinney, executive director of the Harte

Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi.

“The results of the ethanol policies that are increasing the size of these dead zones, if they continue to grow and persist, we're going to have tremendous environmental impacts,” McKinney, a hunter and fisherman, warned.