Last Saturday, thousands of people packed the National Mall to attend the Earth Day concert. This year, organizers sought to highlight the dual problems of poverty and climate change around the world. As concert goers celebrated in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol building, many were likely unaware of the law put in place by their Congressional representatives in that very building, paid for by their tax dollars and implemented in their name that is responsible for increasing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (thereby contributing to climate change), severely polluting our waterways, straining already depleted water supplies, aggravating global hunger and worsening extreme poverty around the world. And while Earth Day revelers may hate the massive environmental and social damage this law continues to cause to this day, they probably weren’t speaking out against it… because they’ve probably never even heard of it.
The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), passed in 2005 and expanded in 2007, is a federal law that mandates biofuels—primarily corn ethanol—are blended into our fuel and pumped into our gas tanks. While the legislation was originally intended to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ten years into its implementation, the ethanol mandate created by the RFS has been deemed “both unwise and unworkable” by U.S. Representative Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) because it not only increases overall GHG emissions, it’s also been shown to increase the cost of food for all consumers and aggravate global poverty.
This Earth Day join the fight to reform this broken policy so we can finally bring an end to the immense damage it does to our land and the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Here’s how the RFS has been damaging world you live in:
The RFS is responsible for converting millions of acres of previously protected lands—from forests to native grasslands—into agricultural production for biofuels crops, especially to grow corn for ethanol. Since 2008, five million acres of U.S. conservation land have been converted to corn plantations to meet the federally-imposed ethanol mandate. In 2012, farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn than they did before the ethanol boom and by 2013, nearly one-third of all U.S. cropland was dedicated to corn production. With immense competition for land and 40 percent of the U.S. corn harvest now being diverted to produce fuel, the perverse incentives created by the RFS are also driving up the cost of food thereby contributing to hunger around the world.
Biofuels push up food prices for everyone. According to the Congressional Budget Office, increased use of ethanol accounted for about 10 percent to 15 percent of the rise in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008. If the mandate continues to expand toward full implementation, American consumers can expect as much as $3.5 billion each year in increased food costs. Higher food prices affect all Americans and will especially hurt working families who rely on programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and children who utilize subsidized school lunches.
The world’s most vulnerable populations, those who live on the margins everyday, are the most affected by biofuels policies like the ethanol mandate created by the RFS. According to ActionAid USA, corn importing countries paid $11.6 billion in higher corn prices due to U.S. ethanol expansion from 2006 until 2011. $6.6 billion of this additional cost was borne by developing nations, where much of the population already spends 60 to 80 percent of their income on food. Additionally, as the hunger for biofuels grows along to match the policies mandating them, “families in countries outside the U.S. are being kicked off their land to make way for biofuels plantations.”
The ethanol mandate is a failed government policy that’s doing much more harm than good. Now that you understand its impacts, tell your representatives in Congress that you demand change.