Conservation Groups Champion Bill to Reform Biofuel Mandate

Bill invests more than $11 billion to reverse impacts of mandate, puts forth solutions to protect drinking water, restore wildlife habitat, and confront climate change

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Seeking to break through the deadlocked discussions between oil interests and the corn ethanol industry, conservation groups signaled their strong support for bills introduced today in the U.S. House and Senate to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard and reverse the damage that the law—known as the biofuel mandate—has caused since its enactment in 2007. The mandate has led to the massive loss of habitat, strain on water resources, and increased climate pollution.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), calls for long-overdue changes to the biofuel mandate to help the United States support clean fuel goals, while protecting the environment and public health.

“This critical legislation offers common-sense solutions that protect wildlife, drinking water, and public health, while supporting family farms and putting the nation on track to meet its clean fuel goals the right way,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We thank Rep. Welch and Sen. Udall for their tireless leadership working to reverse the massive grassland losses and growing algal blooms exacerbated by the biofuel mandate—while also moving America toward cleaner, more sustainable fuels.  We urge the full House and Senate to pass these bills, before the impacts to America’s wildlife and waterbodies become worse and more costly to solve.”

“I applaud Congressman Welch and Senator Udall for their leadership. It’s time to admit that the Renewable Fuel Standard has done more harm than good and start supporting sensible fixes,” said Henry Waxman, the former congressman and current chair of Mighty Earth. “Like many of my colleagues, I supported the admirable environmental goals of the RFS when we created it ten years ago. Now, it’s clear that the RFS has been a net-negative for the environment. Not only has the RFS failed to spur significant development of truly advanced fuels, but conventional biofuels like corn ethanol and soy biodiesel are destroying wildlife habitat at home and abroad, polluting waterways, and increasing global warming pollution.”

“We have already lived through a decade with mandates for corn ethanol, while opportunity and investment for cellulosic and advanced biofuels lagged behind,” said Sarah Saylor, senior legislative representative, Earthjustice.  We endorse the ‘GREENER Fuels’ bill as a much needed remedy for an upside-down Renewable Fuels Standard.”

“Clean Air Task Force applauds Sen. Udall and Rep. Welch for their leadership on reforming the badly broken Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel, Clean Air Task Force. “Over a decade after the biofuel mandate was greatly expanded, it is clear the time has come to scale the mandate down significantly and refocus it on truly low-carbon, environmentally beneficial biofuels, as originally envisioned by Congress.”

“The RFS set out to build a bridge to better biofuels, but instead has only fueled the growth of industrial biofuels made from corn and soybeans. These fuels are bad for our rural communities that are trapped into growing fields and fields of the same crop, and bad for the environment,” said Kelly Stone, senior policy analyst with ActionAid USA. “It’s time for Members of Congress to recognize the failures in the RFS and support alternative fuels that are good for our environment. They can do this by sponsoring the GREENER Fuels Act.”

“The Sierra Club applauds Senator Udall, Congressman Welch, and all the members of Congress who are putting common sense first rather than continuing to permit a dirty and destructive policy to remain intact,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “Instead of continuing to play political games with our environment and public health, these legislators are moving policies that will help undo the damage caused by the ethanol mandate. We urge Congress to pass this legislation immediately rather than continuing to push false theories about ethanol.”

The legislation (S.2519 and H.R. 5212), the Growing Renewable Energy through Existing and New Environmentally Responsible (GREENER) Fuels Act:

  • Reduces the amount of ethanol in our fuel by placing a firm cap on the blend level of 9.7 percent (More than 10 percent is currently blended.);
  • Winds down the corn ethanol mandate beginning in 2023, after the current statutory volume requirements end, by stepping down the required amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply;
  • Limits the amount of virgin (i.e. non-waste) vegetable oil that can be turned into diesel, as the demand for vegetable oil for fuel has pushed oilseed producers to tear down forests abroad, including ecologically vital tropical rainforests;
  • Invests more than $10 billion over 10 years to restore habitat lost due to the mandate and prevent further loss;
  • Prevents the further expansion of E15 (gasoline that is 15 percent ethanol);
  • Protects wildlife habitat by enforcing existing land protections that are supposed to prevent converted land from qualifying as a source of biofuel material;
  • Confronts climate change by eliminating a loophole that allows older biofuel plants to skirt climate pollution standards, halting the conversion of habitat for biofuel, and incentivizing advanced biofuels that lower climate-disrupting pollution in our fuel supply; and
  • Prevents harmful or invasive species to be used to produce fuel.

The new legislation comes at a critical time, as ongoing conversations about reforming the Renewable Fuels Standard in the U.S. Congress and Trump Administration have failed to acknowledge and address the vast environmental problems with the biofuel mandate.


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