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Environmental advocates sue EPA over renewable fuel standard

The agency is accused of ignoring the destructive impact of high biofuel requirements on the habitats of endangered species.

(CN) — The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in the DC Circuit on Wednesday challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel volume requirements for corn ethanol and other biofuels.

Created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the EPA’s Renewable Fuels Standard requires that a certain amount of biofuel be blended with traditional transportation fuels such as diesel and gasoline to reduce emissions. greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA wrote in its 2022 updated rules that “increasing domestic production and use of renewable fuels will also create well-paying American jobs; support our rural economies, American agriculture and manufacturing; and reduce the impacts of climate change.

Last month, the EPA set the 2022 minimum volume requirements for transportation use at about 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol and 5.63 billion gallons of advanced biofuels.

Although the use of renewable fuels and biofuels aims to reduce emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet, conservationists say they may actually have adverse effects on climate change. and the environment, including vital habitats for endangered species.

Wednesday’s lawsuit accuses the EPA of failing to fully assess the impact on endangered species of increased land conversion as well as the use of pesticides and fertilizers needed to meet higher targets in matter of biofuels.

The DC Circuit has twice ruled in previous lawsuits that the agency failed to properly assess the impacts of renewable fuel standards on endangered species when setting annual fuel volume goals. .

Despite EPA’s acknowledgment of the problem and claims that it has begun a consultation process to address it, the agency has never established a formal commitment or timeline to do so, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. .

“Ever-increasing amounts of corn grown to burn for fuel are only exacerbating dead zones in the ocean, worsening water pollution and bringing endangered species closer to extinction,” said Brett Hartl, director of the group’s government affairs, “The renewable fuels program is a colossal boondoggle that’s gobbling up millions of acres of land. It’s a false solution to the climate crisis, delaying the urgent need to switch to electric vehicles.”

The center also warns that increased biofuel production decreases global food security by decreasing the amount of crops grown for food production and also causing their prices to rise.

In its latest update, the EPA wrote that some of its analyzes support lower volumes of renewable fuel.

“As with soy biodiesel, increased corn production in the United States could result in greater conversion of wetlands, adverse effects on ecosystems and wildlife habitat, adverse effects on the quality and water supply, and an increase in the prices of agricultural and food products,” the agency acknowledged. .

In 2018, the EPA concluded that 4 to 7.8 million acres of land had been converted to growing corn and soybeans since the renewable fuels program was enacted in 2006 and that the land conversion rate was higher in areas closer to ethanol biorefineries.

Environmentalists say this continued conversion of forests and grasslands is having detrimental effects on the vital habitats of many pollinators, birds and plant species on which they depend and because these crops are grown for fuel, there are fewer restrictions on the use of pesticides and fertilizers, which run off into nearby streams and rivers.

This additional pollution harms endangered species like the Mississippi pallid sturgeon and worsens ocean dead zones, hurting sea turtles and other endangered marine animals. There are currently over 1,300 endangered or threatened species in the United States that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

According to a United Nations report, agricultural land use change is one of the main drivers of global biodiversity loss.

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