Commentary: Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) introduced companion bills in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by mitigating harmful environmental impacts of the corn ethanol mandate and advancing the next generation of biofuels that actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The GREENER Fuels Act (Growing Renewable Energy through Existing and New Environmentally Responsible Fuels Act) would phase out the corn ethanol mandate and immediately reduce the amount of ethanol in fuel by as much as 1 billion gallons by capping the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gasoline at 9.7 percent. After thirteen years of increasing mandates, corn ethanol is now a mature technology, but one that has contributed to habitat loss and greater water pollution from pesticides and fertilizers.
The bill would help farmers return cornfields to pasture and wildlife habitat through a 10 cents per RIN fee to fund a new Private Land Protection and Restoration Fund in the U.S. Treasury. The fund will help pay for Department of Interior programs that:
- Pay for easements on private lands to keep them out of agricultural production;
- Keep the lands in conservation uses like grass, forest, stream buffers, or pollinator habitat and;
- Help farmers transition land currently in crop production into other uses.
The GREENER Fuels Act also extends the cellulosic and advanced next generation biofuel mandate until 2 billion gallons of annual production is achieved or 2037, whichever is soonest, and improve the way the mandate is implemented to produce liquid transportation fuels that dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“For years, the Renewable Fuel Standard has been unable to deliver on the promise of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and instead has contributed to wildlife habitat destruction and more water pollution from fertilizers and pesticides," Udall said. "Our bill makes the needed reforms to transition biofuels away from food-based crops to greener alternatives that truly are cleaner and more sustainable climate-friendly fuels. This is the type of legislation we need to help combat the urgent threat of climate change, protect shrinking wildlife habitat, and protect our planet for future generations.”
"Despite its early promise, the RFS has been a well-intentioned flop that is harming our environment by contributing to the conversion of millions of acres of grasslands, wetlands and forests into crop production while failing to bring about the widespread use of truly sustainable fuels like cellulosic," said Welch. "Our commonsense legislation reforms the mandate to dramatically reduce its environmental impact and to support the continued growth of advanced biofuels.”
“The original promise of Renewable Fuel Standard was that it would deliver a new wave of cleaner, more climate-friendly transportation fuels,” said Henry Waxman, Former Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “More than a decade later, this promise rings hollow. 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.”
“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 Sierra Club applauds Senator Udall, Congressman Welch, and all the members of Congress who are putting common sense first rather than continuing to permit a dirty and destructive policy to remain intact,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “Instead of continuing to play political games with our environment and public health, these legislators are moving policies that will help undo the damage caused by the ethanol mandate. We urge Congress to pass this legislation immediately rather than continuing to push false theories about ethanol.”