EPA Rolls Out Proposed E15 Rule while New Research Shows Impacts of Renewable Fuel Stand on Land and Water Resources

EPA Rolls Out Proposed E15 Rule while New Research Shows Impacts of Renewable Fuel Stand on Land and Water Resources

While most Americans have adjusted to using E10 ethanol fuel blends in their cars, efforts are in play to grow the demand for ethanol by allowing higher blends (E15) to be used year-round. On March 12, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to make higher-ethanol fuel available year-round and proposed changes to renewable fuel credits under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) policy. This is the next step in the regulatory process and meeting the Administration’s expectations that the rulemaking can be completed by the time the summer driving season begins June 1. However, recent research sheds new light on the land-use change and environmental impacts from the increased use of ethanol following implementation of the RFS 10 years ago.

Disagreements among industries and the government shutdown slowed the finalization of the rules and the delay heightened the potential that additional demand for ethanol would not materialize this year. US ethanol stocks rose to a near record 24.3 million barrels in early March 2019 according to the Energy Information Administration. Large inventories have driven the price of ethanol lower, in part causing the cost of Renewable Fuel Credits (RINs) to also go down. However, petroleum refineries have been challenged with price spikes for RINs. In spite of President Trump’s support for the new RFS, the American Petroleum issued a press release opposing the proposed rule calling the rule a “lose-lose” for U.S. consumers.

The conservation community has also expressed concern with increasing ethanol use citing the impacts to land use along with air and water quality impacts. New research prepared by the University of California-Davis, Kansas State University, and University of Wisconsin, provides a detailed and comprehensive assessment of the direct connection between U.S. biofuels policy and specific economic and field-level environmental changes following passage of the Renewable Fuel Standard 10 years ago. The compilation of research was presented in February at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Wildlife Federation recently hosted a webinar to discuss the findings.

The new research took a systematic approach to demonstrating the tie between RFS policy and impacts on the ground. The RFS increased demand for corn and has inflated the price of corn by 31 percent between 2007 and 2016. This led to an increase in planted acres of corn during that time by 8.2 percent and an increase in the number of acres that were planted to corn every year, called continuous corn production. The increased production increased carbon emissions and water use. According to the researchers, land conversion and more intensive land use also affected critical habitat for many species of wildlife. Detailed maps showing which impacts are most prevalent in specific states is available on the research websites.

March 15, 2019