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Lawsuit Challenges EPA's Damaging Renewable Fuels Standard

WASHINGTON -

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel volume requirements for corn ethanol and other biofuels for 2020, 2021 and 2022. Earlier this month the EPA set the 2022 required minimum volume for transportation sector use at roughly 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol and 5.63 billion gallons of advanced biofuels.

The lawsuit challenges the EPA’s failure to fully assess the impacts to endangered species from land conversion and additional pesticide and fertilizer use to meet these higher-volume targets. Despite two prior rulings from the D.C. Circuit holding that the EPA failed to properly assess endangered species, the agency again failed to act, claiming that it had begun the process of assessing endangered species but offering no timeline or commitment to ever finish the consultation process.

“The ever-increasing amounts of corn grown to burn as fuel only exacerbate dead zones in the ocean, worsen water pollution, and drive endangered species closer to extinction,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “The renewable fuel program is a colossal boondoggle that gobbles up millions of acres of land. It’s a false solution to the climate crisis, delaying the urgent need to transition to electric vehicles.”

In its 2018 report to Congress, the EPA’s triennial report on the renewable fuel program concluded that 4 million to 7.8 million acres of land had been converted to growing corn and soybeans since the enactment of the program and that the rate of land conversion was higher in areas closer to ethanol biorefineries.

Because this corn is 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 pallid sturgeon in the Mississippi River and worsens ocean dead zones, hurting endangered sea turtles and other marine animals.

In addition to converting more land from natural habitat to cropland, the production of biofuels can compete with crops grown for food production. According to the EPA, the proportion of corn grown for ethanol increases each year, with 40% of all corn grown diverted for fuel. With the conflict in Ukraine and reduction in wheat production, global food supplies are perilously low. Continued support for additional biofuel production only worsens the collective ability to feed people in the United States and around the world.

“The EPA should have ratcheted back the renewable fuel program instead of increasing the volumes of biofuels required to be produced,” said Hartl. “This is just another difficult blow to endangered species like pallid sturgeon and sea turtles that already struggle to survive due to the pollution of our nation’s rivers, estuaries and coastal areas. It’s sad that the EPA caved to the powerful agricultural interests that are the only ones to benefit from this terribly ineffective program.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive. 

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