Renewable Fuel Standard

The Renewable Fuel Standard is a major driver of biofuel use. The RFS will require 36 billion gallons of biofuels to be consumed in the U.S. each year by 2022.

Unfortunately, the EPA has refused to follow even the limited environmental safeguards built into the RFS and as a result, the RFS is causing environmental degradation and making climate change worse.  In addition, we are concerned about the impact that increased biofuel production driven by the RFS is having on global food prices. For these reasons, Friends of the Earth believes that the RFS must either be fixed or ditched. (See our Renewable Fuel Standard 101 issue brief.)

The Mandate

Much of the RFS's biofuel consumption mandate is being met with non-cellulosic fuels that harm the environment. Because of this, Friends of the Earth has supported states' applications for waivers from the RFS's consumption requirements.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Biofuels

Friends of the Earth was instrumental in including a safeguard in the RFS that was intended to limit climate pollution from biofuels production. The safeguard required:

  • Conventional biofuels such as corn ethanol to produce 20 percent fewer greenhouse gases than regular gasoline, or the RFS would not apply to them,

  • "Advanced" biofuels (biofuels not produced from corn starch) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent or the RFS would not apply to them,

  • Cellulosic biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent or the RFS would not apply to them.

Unfortunately, current law exempts almost all of the 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol from meeting these emissions standards. In addition, Friends of the Earth has found that EPA’s implementation of the RFS contains serious flaws that ignore the true climate impact of certain biofuels. For example, the EPA uses a questionable analysis to predict that corn ethanol will produce less pollution than regular gasoline one day in the future, and then uses that analysis to excuse the use of extremely dirty corn ethanol today.

Forest and Ecosystem Protections

The RFS includes protections for natural ecosystems through what is called the “Definition of Renewable Biomass.”  This definition safeguards natural ecosystems by preventing biofuel producers from using certain types of land (such as federal forest lands) for biofuel production, and ensures that forests and natural ecosystems are not converted into biomass plantations or farm land for biofuel production.  This definition has been met with severe resistance from the biofuels industry. Friends of the Earth is working to protect these safeguards and to ensure that EPA properly enforces them.

Failure to Protect Water and Soil

As of now, there are no standards that eliminate, or even reduce, the harm that increased biofuels production does to water and soil quality. Massive amounts of water are necessary to produce biofuels. Corn cultivation also often involves large quantities of nitrogen fertilizer, which then runs off corn fields, with adverse impacts on water quality and biodiversity. The "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is attributed to nitrogen runoff from the Corn Belt that flows down the Mississippi River. As it ignores the significant environmental damage created by runoff from biofuels production, the RFS will likely exacerbate the problem.

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