Lost habitat. Polluted waters. Less wildlife. These are all unintended consequences of the broken ethanol mandate.
Let’s start with a confession: More than 10 years ago, the National Wildlife Federation supported passage of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). We agreed with the aspiration to develop cleaner, more sustainable fuels to help the country gain energy independence while promoting a healthier environment. We were promised that no habitat would be lost, that the RFS would accelerate development of truly advanced, low-emission biofuels, and that the program would be halted if adverse impacts occurred. Every one of those promises has been broken, repeatedly.
Since 2007, the ethanol mandate has fueled the destruction of more than 7 million acres of habitat, harming wildlife as well as hunting, fishing, and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Some of the greatest impacts have occurred in the Prairie Pothole region of the Dakotas and Minnesota — the main breeding grounds for ducks and waterfowl in the United States. The program is accelerating the decimation of the American prairie — less than 10 percent of this vanishing habitat remains — which is contributing to the steep decline of many species of grassland-dependent wildlife, including bee colonies that pollinate crops accounting for a third of our nation’s food supply.
The massive conversion of wildlife habitat to row crop agriculture — and resulting increase in farm runoff — is contributing to toxic algal outbreaks around the country that poison drinking water, hurt small businesses, curtail outdoor recreation, and raise utility costs. The enormous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico fed by agricultural runoff, which reached an all-time high last year, costs seafood and tourism industries at least $82 million per year.
The National Wildlife Federation supports bipartisan, common-sense reforms that support family farmers and advance clean fuels while protecting public health and our natural resources. We support reducing the current corn ethanol mandate; promoting cleaner, more sustainable biofuels (other than those from food crops like corn and soy); halting habitat destruction (as required by law); and, funding habitat restoration and conservation to mitigate the damage already done. These solutions, and others, are in the Growing Renewable Energy through Existing and New Environmentally Responsible (GREENER) Fuels Act (S. 2519 and H.R. 5212).
Ten years ago, we failed to anticipate the unintended consequences of this ill-conceived government mandate. Today, we know better. We urge Congress to reform nation’s biofuel policy and protect our drinking water, wildlife habitat, and public health.
• Collin O’Mara is president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. Please follow @NWF.