THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013
In recent years, millions of acres of America’s native grasslands have been plowed under to grow corn for ethanol to blend into gasoline. And new research is clearly pointing to the federal ethanol mandate as a main driver of this tsunami of land conversion in the Midwest.
The latest evidence came last month (February 2013) in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by South Dakota State researchers Christopher K. Wright and Michael C. Wimberley, who wrote that “we found a net decline in grass-dominated land cover totaling nearly” 1.3 million acres.
The corn ethanol lobby is desperate to dodge the blame for the polluted water, soil degradation and destruction of wildlife habitat driven by this massive land use change. Consider its response to research confirming corn ethanol’s damage to the environment. Particularly misleading is the Renewable Fuels Association’s assertion that federal law prevents conversion of land for ethanol production:
… the provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act require that corn and other feedstocks used to produce biofuels for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) may only be sourced from land that was actively engaged in agricultural production in 2007, the year of the bill's enactment. Feedstock from lands converted to cropland after 2007 would not qualify for the RFS, and thus the program strongly discourages cropland expansion.
The reality, however, is that this provision is largely a formalized shell game and has no meaningful effect on preserving grasslands.
Ethanol plants do not have to prove that their corn comes from eligible lands. The Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of whether biofuels production is complying with the law is based simply on the total amount of existing agriculture acreage in 2007 for all crops – more than 400 million acres. Were this “baseline” to be exceeded, ethanol makers would be subject to actual record-keeping and reporting requirements. But because the baseline is set so high, the EPA is unlikely ever to implement these rules.