According to a new report by the Inspector General (IG) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA’s Office of Research and Development has failed to report to Congress every 3 years on the environmental impacts of biofuels as required by law.
Among other issues, EPA has not has not fulfilled requirements to analyze and address any negative air quality impacts of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), nor has it completed a comprehensive lifecycle analysis to determine whether renewable fuels actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions as it claimed they would
The IG’s report notes, a comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts of biofuels is critical given conflicting scientific opinions about biofuel possible harmful impacts and the divergent interests involved in pushing the RFS.
As a result of EPA’s failure to meets it statutory analysis and reporting requirements, the IG concludes EPA is unable to determine whether the RFS creates negative impacts on air quality and, if so, take required measures to mitigate such impacts as the law requires.
RFS’s High Environmental Costs
Susan E. Dudley and Sofie E. Miller, respectively the director and a senior policy analyst at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, write concerning the problems highlighted by the IG’s report in a recent Forbes article.
“When EPA issued rules implementing the RFS program in 2010, it estimated that biofuel production would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 138 million metric tons,” write Dudley and Miller. “However, academic research published since 2007 suggests that the opposite may be true, and that the production of biofuel may significantly increase emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) and of criteria pollutants such as particulate matter.”
Despite the fact, Congress required EPA to report every three years on the environmental effects of the RFS, in order for lawmakers to determine whether the consequences of the program merited its continuation, EPA has not issued such a report since 2011 and the IG found the agency has no plans to provide the required information to Congress or the public in the near future. In addition, EPA has yet to undertake a legally required study on the air quality impacts of the RFS, in order to determine the RFS is actually increasing emissions of various pollutants and greenhouse gasses.
Dudley and Miller report even the under best conditions, the environmental benefits of the RFS are modest at best and, at worst, mandatory biofuel use may result in larger carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline. In addition, they note, studies show increases in corn-based ethanol production, required by the renewable fuel mandates, damage ecosystems, wildlife habitat, and fisheries.
“The availability of new scientific, technical and economic information shows that, despite the best of intentions, the RFS program does not work and is likely causing significant environmental harm,” write Dudley and Miller.
As the IG’s report states, absent EPA following the research and reporting requirements of the law, it is impossible for Congress to determine whether the RFS merits continuation or should be halted.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.