NJ Audubon: Let’s fix the federal ethanol mandate

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pumping gas in car at gas station

NJ AUDUBON – In the wake of two rounds of back-to-back coastal flooding events, caused by Winter Storms Riley and Quinn, New Jersey Audubon is strongly supporting a bill—the Greener Fuels Act—introduced in the U.S. House and Senate to fix the federal ethanol mandate that has led to widespread habitat loss and contributed to climate change.

The ethanol mandate, known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, is a federal program administered by the U.S. EPA that mandates gasoline include a minimum amount of alternative fuels, such as those derived from corn ethanol. The goal of the program — which ratchets up the volume of renewable fuels each year — is to move away from petroleum-derived gasoline. Unfortunately, the mandate has instead contributed to environmental problems that impact New Jersey in several ways. First, the massive land conversion in the years immediately following enactment of the ethanol mandate produced climate-disrupting pollution equivalent to 20 million additional cars on the road each year.

“Any program contributing to climate change impacts our coastal state,” stated Megan Tinsley, Policy Director for New Jersey Audubon. “The carbon emissions generated by the land conversion to support the current ethanol mandate are problematic, as well as the widespread habitat loss that threatens species that migrate to New Jersey”.

In the 10 years since current the Renewable Fuel Act was passed in 2007, more than 7 million acres of wildlife habitat has been converted into cropland—mostly corn to produce ethanol. The American prairie has been especially hard-hit and less than 10 percent of native grasslands remain. The conversion of wetlands and grasslands to crops threaten many species, including waterfowl, upland birds, and pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies.

“The rapid destruction of habitat in areas such as the prairie potholes, known as the duck factory of America, is changing the landscape of this critical region,” said David La Puma, Director of New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory. “Many species of waterfowl that utilize these areas for nesting travel to New Jersey for other portions of their life cycle”

Known as the GREENER Fuels Act, the bill seeks to reform the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard by reducing the amount of ethanol in our fuel by placing a firm cap on the blend level of 9.7 percent and preventing the expansion of E15 (gasoline that is 15 percent ethanol). It will also implement a step-down of the corn ethanol mandate and beginning in 2023, after the current statutory volumes end, the bill reduces the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply.

“This represents a great step toward supporting cleaner fuels and a cleaner environment and we urge Congress to support and pass this bill,” said Kelly Mooij, V.P. for Government Relations for New Jersey Audubon. “By providing funding to restore wildlife habitat and prevent additional habitat from being destroyed, as well as incentivizing advanced biofuels that lower climate disrupting pollution in our fuel supply, the GREENER Fuels Act provides solutions for problems created by the ethanol mandate”.

The call for Congressional action comes as a host of diverse allies – conservation organizations, petroleum refiners, fast food franchises, boat and motorcycle engine manufacturers, and ranchers – join together to urge lawmakers to reform a law that has never lived up to its intentions. Support comes from across the nation as the accelerated conversion of farmland and loss of wildlife habitat and natural areas has also contributed to water pollution, including farm runoff-fueled harmful algal blooms like the 2014 bloom in Lake Erie that left more than 400,000 people without safe drinking water for three days, as well as the recurring dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico which has harmed wildlife and local economies dependent on fishing and seafood.

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