For Immediate Release, June 21, 2023
J.W. Glass, (813) 833-5301, firstname.lastname@example.org
EPA Renewable Fuels Standard Shortchanges Imperiled Species Review
WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency shirked its legal obligation to protect imperiled plants and animals in a final rule released today setting fuel volume requirements for corn ethanol and other biofuels through 2025.
The EPA failed to complete legally required consultations with federal wildlife agencies to determine potential harms to threatened and endangered species — such as whooping cranes, sea turtles and prairie butterflies — from land conversion, pesticides and fertilizers for biofuels production.
“Federal officials continue to stick their heads in the sand and flout their legal responsibilities while biofuel crops devour millions of acres of habitat, increase water pollution and worsen ocean dead zones,” said J.W. Glass, EPA policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is not a one-off error but part of a track record of shirking mandatory duties under the Endangered Species Act.”
The final rule maintains roughly the same levels the EPA proposed last summer — approximately 15 billion gallons of conventional corn ethanol for each of the next three years, plus 5.9 billion gallons of advanced biofuels in 2023, 6.5 billion gallons of advanced biofuels in 2024, and 7.3 billion gallons in 2025. This was the first opportunity for EPA to set annual volume requirements untethered from the congressionally mandated minimums that have been in place over the previous decade.
In its 2018 report to Congress, the EPA concluded that the renewable fuel program had converted up to 7.8 million acres of land to growing corn and soybeans since the program’s enactment in 2005. The rate of land conversion was higher in areas closer to ethanol biorefineries. The agency’s draft 2023 report, released in January, claims any harm is too speculative to be quantified.
Because ethanol corn is grown for fuel, there are fewer restrictions on the use of pesticides and fertilizers, which run off into nearby streams and rivers. This pollution harms endangered plants and animals such as the pallid sturgeon in the Mississippi River. It also worsens ocean dead zones, harming endangered sea turtles and other species.
Despite two federal court rulings that the EPA failed to properly assess the harm from the renewable fuel program on endangered species, the EPA still has not complied with the Endangered Species Act. The Center challenged the EPA’s 2020-2022 renewable fuel targets for failing to complete required consultations. An agreement reached in that case required the EPA to comply with the Act.
“We really hoped the EPA and federal agencies would meaningfully consider the havoc biofuels are wreaking on endangered species before issuing the set rule,” said Glass. “The renewable fuel program is special-interest corporate welfare on steroids that does nothing to address the climate crisis and delays the transition to electric vehicles.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.