NWF: Ethanol Gambit ‘Simply Not Legal’
EPA move—not allowed under Clean Air Act—would exacerbate habitat destruction, water pollution, air pollution, and climate change.
Washington, D.C. —The Trump Administration announced today that it plans to expand the sale of gasoline with higher ethanol content year-round—a move that is not legally allowed under the Clean Air Act and a policy change that would further exacerbate the adverse natural resource impacts of the nation’s current biofuels program under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said:
“It’s simply not legal under the Clean Air Act to increase the year-round sale of E15 gasoline. If enacted, the change will accelerate the vast damage to our wildlife habitat, drinking water, and air quality caused by current federal biofuels policy. The Trump Administration’s overreach underscores the urgent need for Congress to craft meaningful bipartisan reform of the corn ethanol mandate to protect clean water, public health, and wildlife habitat. We look forward to working with leaders from both parties in the House and Senate to enact common-sense solutions, like those found in the GREENER Fuels Act that work for family farmers and that advance cleaner, more sustainable fuels the right way.”
The Trump Administration’s announcement follows a landmark report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that found that the Renewable Fuel Standard was responsible for widespread negative natural resource impacts, including destruction of wildlife habitat for species like swift foxes, waterfowl, and pheasants, as well as important pollinators such as native bees and monarch butterflies. The application of additional fertilizers to grow more corn on marginal lands has increased the nutrient pollution that is fueling the record algal blooms in several parts of the country. And the amount of energy it takes to convert corn to ethanol has increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change. The administration’s move to increase the allowable level of ethanol in gasoline during summer months from 10 percent to 15 percent will exacerbate these impacts.
Most importantly, the Trump Administration does not have the legal authority to provide an E15 waiver under the Clean Air Act. Currently, the sale of gasoline with higher ethanol content is restricted to protect public health. Gasoline with more ethanol produces additional oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC), which contribute to the formation of harmful smog (ozone), which is most prevalent in the summer months and especially impacts the health of children and the elderly. Significant portions of the Mid-Atlantic states, Great Lakes states, California, Texas, and others are currently out of attainment under the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone—in these areas, air pollution exceeds levels considered safe and poses a threat to human health—which is why the Clean Air Act prohibits the sale of generic E15 gasoline in the summer.
The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments established limits on fuel volatility levels, as a measure of the fuel’s contribution to smog formation. The EPA has repeatedly reaffirmed that the statute clearly does not allow administrative expansion to E15 in at least three subsequent rulemakings.
EPA administrators appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents have concluded that an act of Congress is needed to grant a waiver of Clean Air Act statute for ethanol blends greater than 10 percent. Such measures have been introduced in recent Congresses only to face bipartisan opposition, including last summer.
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Read NWF’s primer on the topic: “Fueling Destruction: The Unintended Consequences of the Renewable Fuel Standard on Land, Water, and Wildlife.”