Scathing Internal Report Says EPA Failed to Review Corn Ethanol’s Environmental Effects
The EPA has failed to determine whether the Renewable Fuel Standard, a so-called environmental policy that’s costing American taxpayers $1 billion to $2 billion a year, has a net benefit on the environment or public health. That’s the finding of a searing report released yesterday by the EPA’s own Inspector General.
Passed in 2007, the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, promised to incentivize green cellulosic fuels made from non-food crops or crop waste. Instead, so far, the RFS has only stimulated the production of corn ethanol, which has led to more water and air pollution, and the destruction of millions of grassland acres.
During a June 2016 congressional hearing on the RFS, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle said they wanted information from the EPA on the environmental impacts of the rule. Congress said it needed more information to figure out if the RFS actually benefits the environment as corn ethanol advocates claim, and determine how much it is costing taxpayers and consumers at the pump.
The EPA’s Office of Inspector General was tasked with getting these answers; its report shows the EPA failed its job of tracking the impacts of the RFS on the environment.
For instance, way back in 2011, the National Academy of Sciences projected the likely environmental effects of the RFS. They found that the standard would likely:
- increase toxic air pollutants, which could increase respiratory problems and even premature death in the U.S.;
- contribute more nitrates to waterways and increase the size of the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico; and
- fail to reduce carbon emissions, and could even increase emissions.
But there’s no indication that the EPA kept the Academy’s warnings in mind.
EPA is supposed to track the environmental and public health impacts of the RFS with reports to Congress every three years. The last report it published was in 2011, which means an environmental report was due in 2014, and is now two years late.
The RFS also has an “anti-backsliding” provision, for which the EPA is assumed to make sure this policy to reduce carbon emissions doesn’t have negative environmental impacts, such as:
- increasing toxic air pollution,
- increasing toxic nitrate pollution in waterways, or
- destroying grasslands and contributing to climate-warming carbon emissions.
Yet, all of these detrimental effects have ensued in the decade since this destructive policy was implemented.
“Not having required reporting and studies impedes the EPA’s ability to identify, consider, mitigate and make policymakers aware of any adverse impacts of renewable fuels,” the Inspector General’s report stated.
The Inspector General recommended that the EPA finally publish a triennial report, which the EPA agreed to complete by the end of 2017. Hopefully such a report will provide Congress and the public with a better picture of the environmental degradation that has resulted from the failed policy.
The Inspector General’s report is yet another piece of evidence proving it’s time to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard to prevent more environmental destruction from corn ethanol, and to ensure biofuel policies actually benefit the climate without harming public health.