Many environmentalists who once supported the U.S. ethanol policy are now regretting their decision as data show the corn-based fuel is wiping out the country’s monarch butterfly population.
The monarch butterfly population declined nearly 15 percent during the past winter, according to a report Wednesday from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Activists with the group also suggest the decline is attributable to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that activists once championed.
“With monarch butterflies now down 90 percent in the last 20 years, we simply must do more if we are going to be successful in reversing monarch butterfly decline,” said Collin O’Mara, the wildlife federations’s CEO and president. The federation is the nation’s leading partner with Rethink Ethanol, a coalition seeking to abolish the biofuels mandate.
Over one billion butterflies have disappeared with only 30 million remaining, The Washington Post reported in 2015. WaPo’s report also cited scientists who suggest the monarch could be on the verge of extinction. Federal agencies are trying to determine the reason for the population decline.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the butterflies as an endangered species that require special protection to survive. The agency, which is providing $2 million for on the ground conservation projects, is studying whether butterflies are endangered.
NWF is helping to raise awareness about the need for milkweed, which could provide sanctuary for butterflies. The group will pass seeds to anyone willing to plant them. The seeds are planted in open space, such as roadsides, parks, forests and other places.
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The group’s primary interest is targeting the RFS, a federal program that requires refiners to blend ethanol and other biofuels into the country’s diesel and gasoline supply. Refiners must purchase Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) if they do not participate in the program. Producing the biofuel requires pesticides that they believe contribute to the butterfly’s extermination, NWF claims.
Ethanol is also hotly disputed in Congress. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is among nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers confronted President Donald Trump in December 2017 over his administration’s refusal to ratchet down the biofuel standard. They want to find a way to lessen the impact the standards have on oil refiners.
Some of Cruz’s Republican colleagues from corn-growing states want to preserve the biofuels mandate.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, for instance, threatened to scuttle several of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency nominees in December 2017 after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suggested lowering the standards and allowing ethanol exports to count toward the total biofuel volume obligations for the year, which would have driven down prices.
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