Sending Office: Honorable Peter Welch
Sent By:
Mark.Fowler@mail.house.gov

Dear Colleague:

I wanted to draw your attention to a recent report
published by the EPA
highlighting the environmental damage being caused by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

When it was signed into law in 2007, the RFS required EPA to issue a triennial report detailing the environmental impacts of the RFS. Even before it was signed into law, Congress had concerns about the damage this policy could cause. 

Although EPA’s recently-released report is four years overdue, its findings validate these environmental concerns and make it unequivocally clear that the RFS is contributing to an array of negative environmental impacts, including the loss of wildlife habitat,
increased water pollution, decreased soil quality, and stress on scarce water resources.

It is imperative that this environmental damage be addressed in any RFS reform effort. To that end, I encourage you to cosponsor the

GREENER Fuels Act
(H.R. 5212), legislation I have introduced to limit the environmental damage caused by the RFS, improve environmental protections, and support the continued growth of next generation biofuels. Senator Udall has introduced companion legislation
in the Senate.

Thank you for your consideration, and please contact Mark Fowler (mark.fowler@mail.house.gov) in my office should you have any questions about the bill or wish to cosponsor.

Sincerely,

Peter Welch

Member of Congress

________________________

Summary of EPA’s RFS Triennial Report Findings:

Overall:

  • The report concludes that there is stronger evidence now than in 2011, when EPA issued its previous Triennial Report, to indicate current biofuel production is negatively impacting the environment. In several places, the report confirms the 2011 report’s
    findings and in some cases, goes further to suggest corn ethanol and soy biodiesel production is causing even worse environmental effects. 
  • While the report does not compare the impacts of biofuel use to petroleum-based fuels directly, it makes clear that the environmental impacts of the RFS have been detrimental.
  • “Disregarding any effects that biofuels have on displacing other sources of transportation energy, evidence since 2011 indicates the specific environmental impacts listed in EISA Section 204 are negative.” (p111)

Land Use Change: RFS-driven biofuel demand is causing environmentally-damaging land use change in the United States and abroad.

  • In the US, corn and especially soybean acreage have increased at the expense of other crops and/or natural landscapes, “with strong indications that some of this increase is a consequence of increased biofuel production.” (p110) Furthermore, “Evidence from
    multiple sources demonstrates an increase in actively managed cropland in the U.S. since the passage of EISA by roughly 4-7.8 million acres, depending upon the source.” (p44)
  • Internationally, “Reports suggest that demands for biofuel feedstocks have led to market-mediated land use impacts (both direct and indirect land use changes) in the past decade … Cropland expansion and natural habitat loss (including forests) have been
    observed internationally, and it is likely that increased biofuel production has contributed to these land use changes.” (pp108-109)

Air Quality Impacts: The Triennial Report does not compare the environmental impacts associated with biofuel to those associated with petroleum fuels. However, the new report does indicate that the production and use of biofuels has a negative
impact on air quality:

  • “These impacts depend on feedstock type, land use change, and land management/cultivation practices and are therefore highly localized …The magnitude, timing, and location of all these emissions changes can have complex effects on the atmospheric concentrations
    of criteria pollutants (e.g., O3 and PM2.5) and air toxics, the deposition of these compounds, and subsequent impacts on human and ecosystem health.” (p64) 

Water Quality/Quantity Impacts: The 2011 report identified several ways in which biofuel production threatened water quality and water quantity. The 2018 report reinforces these concerns, and suggests they could become more pronounced as
biofuel production extends on to less productive land.

  • Modeling studies since the 2011 Report suggest that demand for biofuel feedstocks, particularly corn grain, may contribute to harmful algal blooms, as recently observed in western Lake Erie, and to hypoxia, as observed in the northern Gulf of Mexico. (p73)
  • There are indications of increased water consumption in irrigated areas for corn between 2007 and 2012 and elevated rates of land use change to corn production in more arid Western states including the Ogallala region. Adverse water availability impacts
    will most likely arise in already stressed aquifers and surface watersheds. (p83)

Ecosystems and Habitat Impacts: The ramp-up of the RFS has coincided with the loss of grasslands and wetlands is occurring in ecologically sensitive areas, including the Prairie Pothole Region. The resulting loss of habitat and landscape
simplification negatively impacts pollinators, birds, soil-dwelling organisms, and other ecosystem services in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats. (p92)

Related Legislative Issues

Selected legislative information: Agriculture, Energy, Environment

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