Amid growing demands from the corn lobby that the government mandate even more ethanol be blended into the nation’s gasoline supplies, new finding call such proposals into question. One of the chief claims of the corn lobby is that ethanol is a more “green” type of energy because it’s renewable. From there, the argument is extended to claim that it’s better for the environment all the way around. But the conclusions of a study underlying the latest EPA report on the environmental impact of ethanol (seven years in the making, dating back well into the Obama administration) concludes that the opposite is true. Ethanol produces significant negative impacts on the environment, in some cases worse than the gasoline it’s supposed to be replacing. (Public News Service)
A long-delayed report from the Environmental Protection Agency finds that requiring ethanol made from corn and soybeans to be part of the nation’s gas supply is causing serious environmental harm.
Federal law requires the EPA to assess the environmental impact of the fuel standard every three years, but the new report, issued in July, was four years overdue. According to David DeGennaro with the National Wildlife Federation, the report documents millions of acres of wildlife habitat lost to ethanol crop production, increased nutrient pollution in waterways and air emissions and side effects worse than the gasoline the ethanol is replacing.
“In finding that the Renewable Fuel Standard is having negative consequences to a whole suite of environmental indicators,” DeGennaro said, “the report is a red flag warning us that we need to reconsider the mandate’s scope and its focus on first-generation fuels made from food crops.”
President Donald Trump and senators from agricultural states are urging the EPA to allow an increase in the mandated ethanol content of gasoline.
Some of the negative effects aren’t specific to ethanol, such as the loss of wildlife habitat from expanded corn production. That would happen no matter what you were growing or building in formerly forested areas. But the increased runoff of nutrients and chemicals used in this type of farming are impacting water supplies far beyond anything caused by the occasional oil spill from a tanker car or pipeline.
The bigger surprise is the fact that ethanol production and combustion significantly increases the production of nitrous oxides (Nox). This combines with oxygen in the atmosphere when exposed to sunlight, producing ozone. Now, when we have ozone far up in the atmosphere it helps shield the planet from the sun’s natural radiation, which is a good thing. But ground-level ozone produces no such benefit and actually contributes to the formation of smog and leads to respiratory ailments for many people.
This information comes along at the same time that the President has been unwisely promising corn growers in Iowa and surrounding states that he would push to expand the use of E-15 blends year round. This is a bad move from all but the angle of political calculation. The Renewable Fuel Standard needs to be scaled back (preferably eliminated), not expanded. And if basic considerations of the damage it does to marine equipment and small engines, on top of burning too hot and producing less energy by volume than gas isn’t a good enough reason, perhaps the damage to the environment will convince you.