Highway to the Dead Zone

August 12, 2016

Those who tout the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as a “green” policy are onto something. The RFS is definitely green — unfortunately, it’s the kind of green that creates algal blooms that harm ecosystems and marine life.

Since the RFS was enacted in 2005, corn and soy plantings have increased by over 16.8 million acres across the country. This huge increase in the production of biofuel feedstock is transforming agriculture across the Mississippi River Basin, contributing to farmland runoff that funnels into Mississippi River tributaries and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.  

That’s where the RFS shows its literal true colors as a green policy. The runoff has led to bright green algal blooms growing at a rapid pace, creating hypoxic “dead zones” with such low oxygen concentrations that it’s impossible to sustain healthy ecosystems that support marine life — or, in the words of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: “animal life suffocates and dies.”

In addition to harming marine life, dead zones are costing the American tourism and seafood industries more than $82 million per year.

This year, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is predicted to be the size of Connecticut — bigger than last year’s dead zone, and “3½ times larger than the reduction goal set by a federal-state consortium of environmental agencies,” according to The Times-Picayune.

The green side effects of the RFS are not what well-intentioned lawmakers had in mind 11 years ago when this policy was created — they’re worse than we could have imagined. Without reforming the RFS, we will continue down this highway to the dead zone, risking the health and safety of marine life and our ecosystems in the process.