Washington, D.C. – A proposal now being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cut the amount of corn ethanol required in gasoline would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million metric tons, according to a new report released by the Environmental Working Group.
If the EPA reduces corn ethanol by 1.39 billion gallons as proposed, it would prevent as much greenhouse gas pollution as taking 580,000 cars off the road annually, EWG found.
The current mandate, known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, requires oil companies to increase so-called renewable fuels in gasoline every year, from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons in 2022. For the first time since this law took effect, the EPA has proposed to reduce the amount of corn-based ethanol used as fuel for the nation’s cars and trucks.
“The Obama administration has a real opportunity to scale back the corn ethanol mandate and make a significant contribution in the fight against climate change,” said Emily Cassidy, EWG research analyst and co-author of EWG’s new report, Ethanol’s Broken Promise. “As our research shows, corn-based ethanol is actually worse for the climate than regular gasoline.”
Blending corn ethanol into gasoline has significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions because higher demand for ethanol for fuel has encouraged farmers to plow up wetlands and grasslands to grow corn. This increased agricultural activity releases more soil carbon into the atmosphere. Corn requires intensive fertilizer, which breaks down to emit nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, according to EWG’s study.
EWG estimates that 85 million to 236 million metric tons of greenhouse gases were emitted from 2008 to 2011, when more than 23 million acres of grassland and wetlands were converted to grow crops. Researchers found that most studies that claim the corn ethanol mandate reduces emissions do not properly account for the resources needed to improve crop yields and significantly underestimate the emissions from conversion of land to corn production driven by the federal ethanol mandate.
Since President Obama took office in January of 2009, his administration has made substantial progress to combat climate change. New fuel economy standards and a 10-fold increase in solar energy production have helped reduce U.S. greenhouse gas pollution to the lowest level in almost 20 years.
“In the absence of any real effort by Congress to address climate change, President Obama has stepped up repeatedly, doing more than any previous President to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president for government affairs, said. “If the administration stands strong against the ethanol lobby and implements EPA’s proposed ethanol rollback, it will be a huge victory for the environment.”