Production of corn ethanol has led growers to plow up of millions of acres of prairie grassland and wetlands to plant more corn. By the Environmental Protection Agency’s own definition, this means that corn ethanol is not a renewable fuel.
A recent study by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that native prairie habitats located close to corn ethanol-producing facilities are being destroyed to grow more corn. This conversion of vulnerable land to grow corn for ethanol not only breaks the law, it’s an environmental disaster.
The 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, the federal mandate that requires that corn ethanol be blended into gasoline, strictly prohibited destruction of the landscape to grow more corn. The EPA, which enforces the standard, required that for corn to be considered a “renewable fuel,” it could not be grown on previously uncultivated land. In other words, the ethanol industry was prohibited from using corn from recently destroyed prairies and wetlands.
But that’s exactly what’s happening, research shows..
Ethanol producers have broken the law by growing corn on destroyed habitats, and the EPA has dropped the ball by not enforcing the law.
In contrast to the USDA researchers’ paper, the EPA doesn’t monitor land conversion near ethanol plants. It only tallies total farmland acreage and completely ignores the rampant land conversion occurring in the Midwest.
A paper published last year by Tyler Lark at the University of Wisconsin found that more than 7 million acres – mostly grasslands – had been converted to grow more crops to satisfy the ethanol mandate.
This is further evidence that corn ethanol has been an environmental disaster. Plowing up prairie land releases the carbon stored in plants and soil into the atmosphere, increasing climate-warming carbon emissions. So corn ethanol, instead of reducing carbon emissions as claimed by the industry, is actually much worse for the climate than gasoline.
Corn ethanol is environmentally destructive and is not a renewable fuel. The EPA should take this USDA research to heart and stop allowing corn ethanol to masquerade as a clean, renewable fuel.