Environmentalists agree that fossil fuels must be replaced by cleaner alternatives, but some do not believe biofuels--espcially ethanol derived from corn--is the answer.
Environmental groups sent a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday urging it to suspend the federal biofuels mandate, arguing that the mandate is a major driver of unsustainable biofuels production in the United States and abroad.
"Policies that mandate the use of corn ethanol and other biofuels at the expense of the environment are a train wreck in the making," said Jonathan Lewis, an attorney with the Clean Air Task Force. "Fortunately, the petition to waive the mandate provides EPA with a much-needed off-ramp. EPA must take this opportunity to slow down and examine the ways in which biofuels threaten climate, water quality and biodiversity."
"America needs a real energy policy focused on higher mileage standards, conservation, and clean energy solutions like solar and wind, " said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group. "Thanks largely to the ethanol mandate, pollution levels in the Gulf of Mexico are expected to reach record levels, suffocating marine life and causing a lifeless dead zone the size of Massachusetts. That's a high environmental price to pay for a biofuels policy that is straining family food budgets for the poorest Americans, and is doing next to nothing to lower gas prices," Wiles added.
The Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Working
Group, and Friends of the Earth urged Congress to suspend the mandate. They say environmental problems stemming from the mandate include soil degradation, water pollution, and biodiversity loss, and immense greenhouse gas emissions due to changes in land use. Any renewable fuels policy must include minimum environmental standards that protect climate, soil, air and water quality for all renewable fuels; regularly assess the effects and successes of policies; and provide a clear mechanism for adjusting mandates to prevent adverse effects, the groups said.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committe, released a statement acknowledging the environmental risks and food supply issues surrounding biofuels, but did not say whether the committee would recommend suspending the mandate.
Boxer called for stronger incentives for cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from non-food sources and which she said wil have a smaller carbon and environmental footprint.
"I believe that we must do everything possible to move towards these advanced biofuels. I also believe that we must understand the implications for the economy, including food prices, of current policies that promote the increased use of corn-based ethanol" she said.
"We are very close to significant breakthroughs in biofuels that will transform how we power our cars and trucks, clean up our air, improve our energy security, keep our dollars at home, and protect our climate. We owe it to our grandchildren to push aggressively for these new solutions that will transform our economy and help save our planet," she added.