U.S. EPA’S Corn Ethanol rule fuels split between ag and enviros

U.S. EPA’S Corn Ethanol rule fuels split between ag and enviros
July 13, 2017 Gary Wilson
"The Ethanol Effect" is a new documentary from Detroit PBS - Photo by Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio.
"The Ethanol Effect" is a new documentary from Detroit PBS - Photo by Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio.

“The Ethanol Effect” is a documentary from Detroit PBS – Photo by Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio.

Reduced dependence on oil at odds with land conservation

The Trump administration recently delivered on a campaign pledge made during the 2016 presidential primary in Iowa, the heart of corn country.

Candidate Trump had pledged to keep the Renewable Fuel Standard for corn ethanol at 15 billion gallons per year.

Last week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency’s proposed rule for the standard in 2018 would remain at 15 billion gallons, the maximum allowed by law.

The Renewable Fuel Standard law was passed in 2005 and mandates that oil refiners blend renewable fuels like corn ethanol with gasoline to produce a cleaner product that helps reduce dependence on foreign oil.

In announcing the rule Pruitt said it’s consistent with “market realities.”

He said it’s “timely implementation provides certainty to American refiners, the agriculture community and broader fuels industry, all of which play an important role in the RFS program.”

Predictably, agriculture interests are supportive of the mandate and their fears were assuaged that Pruitt, referred to as an “oil industry ally” from Oklahoma, would move to lower the number.

Oil interests in general would prefer a lower mandated number.

Good for Ohio agriculture

In the Great Lakes region, Jack Irvin from the Ohio Farm Bureau told Great Lakes Now that the bureau is “very supportive” of the decision to keep the renewable number at 15 billion gallons. Irvin is the bureau’s senior director for state and national policy.

Irvin said the standard “has been good for Ohio agricultural” as it has opened markets that may have not been available.

The National Wildlife Federation sees it differently. Natural habitat converted to farmland is their primary concern.

In a press release the federation said the standard “is a harmful program that, over the past decade, has contributed to staggering losses of wildlife habitat and increased water pollution impacting community drinking water, recreation, and jobs.”

The federation says that the renewable fuel standard provides an incentive to convert natural areas to industrial farms. More than 40 per cent of all U.S. grown corn goes to manufacturing ethanol, according to the federation.

Double down on ethanol

“The Trump Administration has doubled down on the harmful corn ethanol mandate — a destructive policy that has been a disaster for our drinking water, wildlife, public health, and economy,” federation CEO Collin O’Meara said in the press release.

The Ohio Farm Bureau’s Irvin told Great Lakes Now that the environmental issue is a “red herring.” Irvin said Ohio has had more acres of corn planted prior to the ethanol mandate and emphasized that farmers are good stewards of the land.

Professor Scott Swinton tracks the ethanol mandate issue for Michigan State University’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics. He wants the incentives to be more inclusive.

Limit fossil fuel emissions

Swinton said he prefers that the ethanol mandate “be replaced by standards that limit automobile emissions from fossil fuels.”

He says the “standards would still create incentives for advanced biofuels, but they would make those incentives available to other renewables as well as to technologies that reduce fuel consumption.”

The rule is open for comment for 45 days and U.S. EPA has a November 30 deadline to implement it.

The Ohio Farm Bureau’s Irvin would not speculate on the standard’s future and the National Wildlife Federation said working with members of congress to reform the standard’s law is a top priority.

For more information on ethanol, the environment and the Renewable Fuel Standard go to Detroit Public TV’s documentary, The Ethanol Effect.

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