The Hill: Frustrations mount in RFS debate despite simple solutions

September 23, 2013

Pete Sepp, September 20 – As the need to repeal the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has become overwhelmingly clear, it’s only natural that efforts would intensify to defend the status quo, offer cosmetic changes, or simply derail conversations around the policy’s shortcomings. One example is an article appearing on Congress Blog earlier this month. In a hard-to-follow chain of argument, the post explained how the RFS effectively established corn ethanol as the “practical” fuel of choice for RFS compliance, and then proceeded to slam those who coped with the policy as best they could by making that very choice. Whatever motives there might have been to encourage development of multiple alternative fuels, RFS’s untenable government-driven quotas essentially ensured that corn would be the near-term mainstay for implementing the scheme.

The post then highlighted environmental and health concerns the RFS was designed to help alleviate, but a compelling study, accounting for incentives to increase croplands, indicates the policy can actually lead to higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Over the course of 30 years, the land-use impact of corn ethanol is expected to double GHG emissions over current fuel-generated levels, according to Princeton and Iowa State University researchers. Even biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on converted U.S. corn lands, could increase the emissions baseline by 50 percent.

Next, the post discussed how the RFS stimulates the economy — but failed to acknowledge RFS’s role in the American farms that have gone bankrupt and the thousands of U.S. jobs lost. According to the Environmental Working Group, “Animal agriculture supports more than 1.8 million jobs, roughly 20 times as many jobs as the ethanol industry offers.” And last year, 2,000 of the nation’s feedlots were forced to shut down mostly due to high feed prices; as Jillian Melchior at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity put it, “Feedlot operators are especially vulnerable to ethanol’s influence on the cost of corn.”