EPA Heads to Dust Bowl ‘Ground Zero’ for Public Hearing

June 24, 2015

The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, is headed to Kansas City, Kan. this week to host the one and only public hearing on the agency’s most recent proposal on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the controversial federal law that mandates biofuels—primarily corn ethanol—be blended into our fuel. The proposed ruling itself indicates the agency knows the federal policy is broken; the EPA proposed limits below those prescribed by law because there is not enough gasoline to absorb the ethanol it mandates. Kansas is a prime case study on the unintended consequences of ethanol mandates imposed by the RFS.

Kansas is in the heartland of Corn Country and was even the earliest adopter of fuel pumps equipped for E15 (gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol). The first E15 gas station in the country was installed in the state; today there are seven. But since then, it’s been a rocky road, and the state has been plagued with environmental woes linked to land conversion resulting from the rush to grow ever-more corn to fulfill federally-imposed ethanol mandates.

For example, Kansas, and a handful of surrounding states, have experienced a re-emergence of dust storms resulting from similar manmade conditions that lead to the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s. In 2007, the RFS expanded ethanol mandates. As a result, more land was required to grow more corn to fulfill those mandates. Analysis by the Environmental Working Group shows that from 2008 to 2012, “more than 5.3 million acres of highly erodible land [went] under the plow despite the drought that continues to plague the plains.”

Approximately 42 percent of that total area converted to crops was in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado Nebraska and Texas—ground zero for reported dust storms.

*Source: Environmental Working Group

As farmers seek to increase yields to meet growing ethanol mandates, former grass and native lands are being converted to row upon row of corn, despite drought, despite the fact that the land is less than suitable for corn fields—because the government’s mandates for corn ethanol grow year after year. Land conversion at this scale has been linked to ground water contamination, increased water consumption, honeybee colony collapse and increased greenhouse gas emissions. These effects show that ethanol’s environmental promises ring hollow.

With environmental evidence this clear, Big Ethanol will come out swinging that much harder to defend this environmentally destructive policy this week in Kansas. But we know the truth: The RFS is broken, and the EPA needs to hear that it’s not working for America. Our partners are speaking out. Now it's your turn to make your voice heard. Call on the EPA to do its job, to protect the environment by rolling back the ethanol mandate.