EWG Testifies on Environmental Impacts of Corn Ethanol

Washington, D.C. – The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to lower the amount of corn ethanol in gasoline is an acknowledgement that the biofuel blending program known as the Renewable Fuel Standard “isn’t working as designed” and must be reformed, EWG Policy Associate Alex Rindler told an EPA panel today.

Rindler’s remarks focused mainly on the environmental impacts of corn ethanol production, which increases greenhouse gas emissions and worsens air and water quality.

“The more we learn of corn ethanol’s harm to the environment, the more difficult it is to justify a renewable fuels policy that mandates its use,” Rindler said. “Since Congress expanded the RFS in 2007, we’ve witnessed a dramatic increase in the demand for — and the production of — corn to burn for fuel. The hope that corn ethanol could greatly lower the carbon footprint of our transportation sector died as it became clear that its growth carried a heavy price.”

Read Rindler’s full testimony here.

Rindler highlighted EWG research that found that from 2008 to 2011, the corn ethanol mandate contributed to the loss of 23 million acres of vegetation – an area the size of Indiana. Corn accounts for the greatest share of conversion of wetlands to farmland in the critically important Prairie Pothole region of the Midwest, which sustains a wide variety of wildlife.

Plowing up environmentally sensitive land releases huge amounts of carbon stored in the soil and increases the use of fertilizers that drive up greenhouse gas emissions, pollute waterways and weaken air quality, he noted.

EPA’s own lifecycle analysis found that corn ethanol currently produces more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. Yet the industry remains exempt from important greenhouse gas reduction standards built into the RFS program, and continues to dominate the marketplace at the expense of second-generation biofuels.

Rindler concluded that congressional action is needed in order to restore EPA’s ability to encourage the development of low-carbon biofuels and other innovative technologies that will lessen dependence on fossil fuels.

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