Sunday, January 1, 2017

NEWS | Report examines unintended consequences of biofuel growth

By Mary Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard has led to the destruction of millions of acres of wildlife habitat and has endangered water supplies, according to a new report.

The National Wildlife Federation research says wildlife has been put at risk by converting previously uncultivated land to grow corn and soybeans, the crops used to make most ethanol and biodiesel fuels.

Frank Szollosi, the NWF's Great Lakes regional outreach coordinator, says the conversion has destroyed habitat and increased farm runoff, causing water quality issues.

"Much like we're experiencing in Lake Erie, these harmful algal blooms are happening in smaller lakes across Ohio," he explains. "And part of the drivers of these harmful algal blooms is the loss of wetlands to grow more corn."

The Renewable Fuel Standard was intended to reduce reliance on imported oil and to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But critics say the government has failed to enforce the habitat protections in the law. Prior to the mandate, about 9 percent of corn grown in the U.S. went toward fuel. Now, it's about 40 percent.

Szollosi adds native habitat has been destroyed for species like honeybees and monarch butterflies that provide tremendous value as pollinators for agriculture.

"With the loss of their critical habitats, it's driving up costs for agriculture at the same time we're seeing these negative impacts on wildlife and habitat and water," he stresses. "And so, the Renewable Fuel Standard needs to be reformed."

NWF President and CEO Collin O'Mara points out that the problems stem from a federal policy that required a massive increase in agricultural production.

"Farmers are not to blame in this policy," he insists. "They were rationally responding to a government mandate.

"And so, we feel like there should be a concerted effort to work with farmers to try to restore habitat on the landscape."

The report also suggests reducing the mandate for first generation fuels made from corn and soy, as well as funding the protection and restoration of habitats and waterways.

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