Gov’t Watchdog Investigates If EPA Is Being Honest About Ethanol’s Environmental Impacts

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Government investigators have begun looking into whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency “complied with the reporting requirements of laws” mandating that refiners blend ethanol into the fuel supply.

The EPA inspector general’s office is asking agency officials for reports to Congress “issued after the EPA’s first report in 2011, and any other reports to Congress on the environmental and resource conservation impacts” of the ethanol mandate, or the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The IG’s investigation to see if EPA was properly reporting the environmental impacts of the RFS comes right after the American Council for Capital Formation released a study claiming that mandating corn ethanol was damaging the environment and contributing more to global warming than conventional gasoline.

“Corn ethanol’s environmental record has failed to meet expectations across a number of metrics that include air pollutants, water contamination, and soil erosion,” reads ACCF’s study — ACCF is part of a coalition opposing the RFS.

The IG will be looking at whether the EPA has complied with all the reporting requirements set out by Congress, including if the agency updated its lifecycle analysis of the RFS since a 2011 National Academy of Sciences study on the global warming impacts of biofuels.

“The anticipated benefits of this project are to ensure public health and the environment are protected by verifying the EPA is complying with reporting requirements, and is considering statutorily mandated studies when promulgating the RFS,” the IG wrote in a letter to the EPA.

But looking at that 2011 study, the National Academy of Science was skeptical of the environmental benefits of mandating ethanol production. The study found the RFS “may be an ineffective policy for reducing global [greenhouse gas] emissions because the effect of biofuels on [greenhouse gas] emissions depends on how the biofuels are produced and what land-use or land-cover changes occur in the process.”

Since that study, more have come out questioning the benefits of the RFS. A recent University of Minnesota study found the RFS was actually killing people because it deteriorates air quality (though it relies on disputable evidence surrounding certain pollutants), and other studies have shown ethanol can damage car engines when blended into fuel at high levels.

In the wake of such studies, RFS opposition has once again heated up. ACCF and a coalition of groups launched an ad campaign Friday, pushing for an end to federal ethanol mandates. Environmental activists have also joined the fray in pushing for ditching the current RFS.

RFs supporters, however, have pushed back against criticisms leveled by ACCF and others.

“Over the past decade the Renewable Fuel Standard has proven time and time again why it is our nation’s most successful energy policy,” Geoff Cooper, senior vice president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a statement. “Its impact on our nation’s energy security, economy, and environment is unmatched.”

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Tags : american council for capital formation congress environmental protection agency renewable fuel standard university of minnesota
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