A hot, new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that requiring ethanol made from corn and soybeans to be added to gasoline in the name of “environmental protection” is doing more harm than good.
The report, Biofuels and the Environment: The Second Triennial Report to Congress, is four years overdue and contains many findings that should be troubling to those of us interested in real environmental protection.  Here are some of the analysis:

  • The substantially increased acreage used for crop production has impacted local environments (e.g., loss of natural habitat for wildlife).
  • Ethanol from corn grain has higher emissions of harmful pollutants than ethanol from other feedstocks.  These emissions include s nitrogen oxides (NOx gases), which can ultimately form ground-level ozone that contributes to smog).
  • Fertilizer-infused runoff water from the new farms has contributed to harmful algal blooms (e.g., as in the case of Lake Erie).

These issues are on top of all the other troubles associated with ethanol-infused fuel, as described by John Stossel in a 2016 report:

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is a 2005 law that requires oil refineries include ethanol in their fuel blends and was passed to mitigate the supposed effects of climate change. The RFS is controversial, pitting oil producers against corn growers.  While it is not certain what the next move from the current administration will be, it appears that the President is poised to go forward with plans to add more ethanol.

President Donald Trump on Thursday said his administration is very close to granting a waiver that would allow the sale of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol year-round.

“I’m very close, I have to tell you, to pulling off something you have been looking forward to for many years and that’s the 12-month E15 waiver,” he said at a workforce event in Iowa, where farmers would get a boost by increasing the amount of ethanol, a biofuel typically made from corn, blended into gasoline.

The report highlights one of the challenges in relying on the government to solve all problems at all times: The bureaucracy put in place to do so is disinclined to leave once the issues are resolved. For example, the Clean Air Act of 1970 been successful in substantially reducing air pollution, as noted in another just-published EPA report:

…[B]etween 1970 and 2017, the combined emissions of six key pollutants dropped by 73 percent, while the U.S. economy grew more than three times. A closer look at more recent progress shows that between 1990 and 2017, average concentrations of harmful air pollutants decreased significantly across our nation:

  • Sulfur dioxide (1-hour) ↓ 88 percent
  • Lead (3-month average) ↓80 percent
  • Carbon monoxide (8-hour) ↓ 77 percent
  • Nitrogen dioxide (annual) ↓ 56 percent
  • Fine Particulate Matter (24-hour) ↓ 40 percent
  • Coarse Particulate Matter (24-hour) ↓ 34 percent and
  • Ground-level ozone (8-hour) ↓ 22 percent

Clearly, there is a need for environmental protection regulations. However, there must be a balance so that monies and resources are not being diverted to address non-existent problems in ways that create real ones.


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