Energy

EPA Skips Required Research, Now Has No Clue If Biofuels Hurt The Environment

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials are ignoring a federal law requiring them to report to Congress and the public whether biofuels are helping or harming the environment, a government watchdog reported Thursday.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program “is a national policy that requires a certain volume of renewable fuel, also known as biofuel, to replace or reduce the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel,” EPA inspector general (IG) official Jim Kohler said in a podcast.

“It was created with the intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil,” said Kohler, who is an environmental engineer. But the EPA never completed studies that would show whether biofuels are actually reducing greenhouse gases or otherwise helping the environment.

Forgoing these reports “impedes EPA’s ability to identify, consider, mitigate and make policymakers aware of any adverse impacts of biofuels,” Kohler said. “EPA, Congress and other stakeholders lack key information on biofuel impacts needed to make science-based decisions about RFS and U.S. biofuel policy.”

The required reporting “provides for an objective analysis on the environmental impacts and unintended consequences of U.S. biofuel policy. This analysis is important, given conflicting scientific opinions about biofuel impacts, potential impacts outside of the EPA’s regulatory control, and divergent RFS interests.”

Consequently, the EPA can’t assess whether biofuels impact other environmental standards, such as air quality.

Meanwhile, the agency ordered refiners in 2015 to increase the amount of biofuels they blend into fuel, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Michael Bastasch reported. (RELATED: Judge Rules EPA Can’t Mandate Use Of Nonexistent Biofuels)

“The EPA’s Office of Research and Development has not complied with the requirement to provide a report every 3 years to Congress on the impacts of biofuels,” the report said. “The EPA provided a report to Congress in 2011, but has not provided subsequent reports as required.”

The agency also missed a deadline to produce a report that shows whether biofuels are actually hurting the environment as a whole.

Additionally, the EPA hasn’t updated a 2010 analysis of the amount of greenhouse gases biofuels did or did not reduce. That report isn’t required like the other two, but the EPA did publicly commit to updating that analysis.

“EPA management said they have not prioritized compliance with these requirements due to competing priorities and resource constraints.”

The IG found that the EPA was denied funds for biofuel research from Congress from 2013 through 2015, but the watchdog rejected that excuse, saying “the statutory requirement to complete the report does not hinge on yearly, earmarked funding.”

The EPA spent an estimated $1.7 million on the 2011 report, but that amount is a fraction of biofuel’s cost to the country.

“EPA estimated the cost to society from the increase in required RFS blending volumes from 2015 to 2016 to be between $933 million and $2.09 billion,” the report said.

The agency also explained that three years is too short for scientific advances and that Congress didn’t comment on the usefulness of the 2011 report.

The EPA “could simply report out on that fact,” the report said. “Lack of scientific advances does not eliminate the EPA’s reporting requirement. Additionally, the EPA has no record of any communication between the EPA and Congress regarding the reporting requirement.”

The RFS has been heavily criticized and the latest EPA IG report sparked a renewal of the criticism.

George David Banks, executive vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation, said “by failing to conduct analysis as required by law, EPA has simply tried to ignore the overwhelming evidence of the harmful impacts of corn ethanol on the environment. Hopefully the EPA will keep its new pledge made to the IG and actually get back on track and meet its obligations under the law.”

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