Groups Petition EPA to Stop Habitat Loss Due to Ethanol Mandate

Following release of EPA’s own report documenting massive habitat loss after enactment of U.S. biofuels mandate, groups demand agency follow law to protect wildlife habitat, reduce water pollution, and confront climate change.

Washington, D.C. —Following on the heels of an Environmental Protection Agency report to Congress documenting wide-spread habitat loss following enactment of U.S. biofuels policy in 2007, environmental and conservation groups today filed a petition with EPA, asserting the agency has illegally allowed millions of acres of wildlife habitat to be converted to corn and soybean crops to satiate federal biofuels policy under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The petition to EPA follows the release of a new international report urging nations to act with urgency to curb climate change. Ensuring that current U.S. biofuels policy supports—rather than hinders—the adoption of truly clean, sustainable fuels is essential in helping confront climate change.

The petition was drafted by Earthjustice, with Clean Air Task Force as co-counsel, on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, ActionAid USA, American Bird Conservancy, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Conservation Northwest, Hoosier Environmental Council, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Mighty Earth, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Wild Idea Buffalo. Read the petition here.

The organizations said: “Today’s action serves one purpose: demand that EPA follow the law. When Congress expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard, Congress was clear that biomass for fuel could not be grown on native, undisturbed grassland. Congress recognized that conversion of native land to cropland releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, increases water pollution and eliminates wildlife habitat. For years, however, EPA has completely ignored its legal obligation by refusing to enforce these crucial environmental protections. It has buried its head in the sand about the destruction of millions of acres of wildlife habitat, increased water pollution, and climate disruption – all the direct result of the agency’s dereliction of duty.

“EPA even acknowledged the vast loss of habitat in its own report to Congress, yet has refused to change course. Most troubling, the agency’s inaction has coincided with increasingly dire warnings about the need to aggressively confront climate change—the very problem that the law was created to help solve.

“Now more than ever, EPA needs to act with purpose and urgency to confront the climate crisis. We have solutions. It is time for EPA to use them.”


Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (“EISA”), crops produced for biofuels can only be grown on land that had been farmed prior to the passage of EISA in 2007 — a restriction on land use meant to prevent the cultivation of native grassland and subsequent release of harmful greenhouse gases, as well as a loss of habitat and biodiversity, and environmental harm such as increased water pollution.

EPA has refused to enforce the law. Instead of verifying that ethanol or biodiesel comes from material grown on eligible cropland (as opposed to converted habitat), EPA has followed an “aggregate compliance” approach, measuring the aggregate amount of land in cultivation, with the goal of ensuring the total land used to produce food and biofuels remains below 2007 levels.

The problem with aggregate compliance is that land use changes all the time. Farmland can be – and often is – converted into subdivisions or other uses in one part of the country, while an equal amount of native grassland that provides wildlife habitat is converted to grow corn for ethanol in another part of the country. The net acreage remains the same—yet wildlife habitat is destroyed and carbon sequestered in the previously uncultivated soil gets released into the atmosphere as a harmful greenhouse gas. This kind of land conversion is exactly what happened following enactment of EISA.

More than 7 million acres of wildlife habitat have been converted to cropland since the passage of EISA. The massive habitat loss has been documented by independent research, USDA, and EPA itself in a recent report to Congress on the environmental impacts of U.S. biofuels policy.

Environmental groups are filing the petition to insist that EPA scrap its aggregate compliance approach and instead verify that biofuels are only produced on land allowed under the law—farmland that was in production prior to 2007.


Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation,, 734-904-1589

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