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Conservation Groups Champion Bill to Reform Biofuel Mandate

Legislation can serve as model for EPA as agency resets U.S. biofuels policy to support cleaner, more sustainable fuels and to reverse environmental damage caused by Renewable Fuel Standard

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Wildlife Federation and a series of conservation groups are supporting legislation introduced today to reform the federal biofuels mandate and reverse widespread damage to wildlife habitat, water resources and the climate resulting from the nearly 12-year-old Renewable Fuel Standard that requires biofuels to be blended into domestic gasoline.

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. 

The new legislation comes as the U.S. EPA works to set new guidelines as to how it administers the Renewable Fuel Standard. The agency is required by law to embark on a “re-set” of the program because the mandate is not meeting original biofuel targets. The law calls for corn- and soy-based fuels to be a bridge to advanced fuels derived from non-food crops, crop waste and other sustainable bio-energy sources like algae. That transition has never come to pass, and the EPA is re-crafting the program as a result.

“The Greener Fuels Act will protect at-risk wildlife, drinking water and public health, while supporting farmers as our nation transitions towards cleaner, more sustainable liquid fuels and electric vehicles to achieve net-zero carbon emissions before 2050,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We thank Rep. Welch and Sen. Udall for their leadership to move America toward cleaner, more sustainable fuels. We urge the full House and Senate to take up and pass these bills. We also strongly encourage the EPA to use this legislation as a roadmap to reform U.S. biofuel policy to support cleaner, more sustainable fuels — and to reverse the vast environmental damage the corn ethanol mandate has caused.”

“The original promise of Renewable Fuel Standard was that it would deliver a new wave of cleaner, more climate-friendly transportation fuels. More than a decade later, this promise rings hollow,” said Henry Waxman, the former congressman and current chair of Mighty Earth. “Truly advanced, next-generation biofuels have failed to come online in significant amounts. The first generation biofuels we are using, corn ethanol and soy biodiesel, have incentivized short-sighted farming practices and encouraged land conversion and forest destruction around the globe. Perhaps most disturbing, a decade of research shows that these biofuels are not meeting their modest climate emission reduction targets and in fact may be exacerbating the climate crisis. It’s time our policies reflected our new understanding. The GREENER Fuels Act would help fix the broken status quo. I applaud Representative Welch and Senator Udall for this important step in addressing our country’s role in the climate crisis.”

“For more than a decade, the Renewable Fuel Standard has had a deleterious impact on climate and the environment, increasing climate pollution, straining our water resources and heavily increasing loss of valuable habitat, in contravention of Congress’s intent.  We therefore need to reevaluate and consider sustainable solutions,” said Carrie Apfel, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “We support the GREENER Fuels bill as a necessary step to reverse these detrimental harms and to better protect the environment.”

“The RFS has been in place for more than a decade, yet it’s clear that it is not working for either the climate or for family farmers, who are facing the worst farm crisis since the 1980s,” said Kelly Stone, senior policy analyst with ActionAid USA. “More food- and land-based biofuels aren’t going to fix this problem. It’s past time for Congress to support the much-needed transition to truly clean energy. That’s why we’re excited to support the GREENER Fuels Act.”

“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 with 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 legislation:
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; 
Reverses EPA’s summertime 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. 

 

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