A new report and media campaign from the Center for Regulatory Solutions targets corn ethanol production, saying it is harming the environment and driving up fuel costs. Specifically, CRS takes aim at the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, a policy rolled out in 2005 by Congress and designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions by increasingly expanding biofuels including corn-derived ethanol.
Supporters say the benchmarks prompt more investment in ethanol, protecting the environment, diversifying the nation's fuel sources and boosting jobs. But opponents say the standards resulted in a surge of corn growth which ended up driving up ozone-forming emissions, water usage, soil erosion and transportation costs. The 38-page report comes less than a month before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency releases its finalized proposed rule for the RFS, which could maintain or deviate from Congress's established benchmarks. The report's Thursday release is timed to coincide with an anti-RFS television ad campaign by the American Council for Capital Formation that launched this month.
CRS President Karen Kerrigan said the report "puts the spotlight directly on the failures of Washington's corn ethanol mandate for Ohio." “Supporters of corn ethanol promised economic and environmental gains from using corn in our fuel supply," Ms. Kerrigan said in a statement. "Ten years later, we are left with broken promises and a lose-lose mandate for both the environment and the small businesses that power our economy."
Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association President Tadd Nicholson criticized the report in an interview, saying the farmers that would be negatively impacted by an RFS reduction are small businesses.
"Certainly we have a whole lot of data that would absolutely show that in terms of environment there's an over 30% reduction in greenhouse gas reduction due to ethanol," he said, citing a 2007 study from Argonne National Labs. "We know very well, indisputably this is a cleaner burning fuel for the environment."
He called the report's claim that ethanol production has driven up transportation costs "especially egregious."
In its report, CRS argues the standards have resulted in:
Nearly 1.92 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and ozone-forming emissions
An additional 5,000 tons of volatile organic compounds and 28,000 tons of nitrogen oxides between 2005-2014
4.5 billion gallons a year in water consumption between 2008-2014
More than 8,500 tons of cumulative soil erosion in Ohio between 2005-2014
$400 million in additional transportation fuel costs in Ohio during 2014
"It is clearer now than ever before that the RFS benefits very few at the expense of very many," the report argues. "The corn ethanol lobby remains a powerful force in Washington, to be sure, but even corn-producing states like Ohio are beginning to recognize that the costs of the RFS far outweigh the benefits."
CRS argues that a recent poll of Ohioans shows the tide is turning as the standards fall out of favor with more citizens. When first asked, 73% of those polled indicated they were unfamiliar with RFS. After receiving an explanation of the mandate and its goal, respondents were fairly split with 44% approving the RFS and 45% disapproving.
When told that the U.S. EPA has said the original congressional targets under the RFS were too high because of the decreasing demand for gasoline, 62% of respondents said that made them less likely to support the existing RFS and higher ethanol mandate targets.
Overall, nearly 90% of respondents indicated they would be less likely to support RFS if ethanol production and consumption led to decreases in air quality or increases in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fuels.
"Now is the time to put aside a failed policy and repeal this costly Washington mandate," Ms. Kerrigan said.
In contrast, the OCWGA and other agriculture-based groups are hoping the EPA's final proposal adheres to the benchmarks already established by Congress. A national poll released last month by the National Biodiesel Board found that 80% of voters supported a renewable fuel standard.
Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely said any study on ethanol's impact should account for the benefits the industry adds - including jobs.
"It's like any public policy arena. There are going to be differing view and you're going to see fancy reports from all of those views so this is just one of many," Mr. Cornely said. "I think the educated consumer will read and study a variety of sources of information, not just one."