Epa asked to require biofuel producers to prove feedstocks compliant with rfs rules

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act that includes the RFS, crops produced for biofuels are required to be grown on land farmed prior to the passage of the act in 2007. The restriction was designed to prevent the cultivation of native grassland.

The groups claim in the petition that EPA has failed to verify that ethanol or biodiesel is produced with feedstocks grown on eligible cropland and not native grassland. Instead, they said, the agency measures the amount of total land in cultivation for food and biofuels to gauge if it stays below 2007 levels.

"Rather than protecting climate and the environment by restricting land use, aggregate compliance permits conversion of land not cultivated or actively farmed in 2007," the 72-page petition said. "It ignores the reality that land use in the United States is not static, and that agricultural land is frequently converted to other uses, so that remaining below a cap does not at all indicate that grasslands, forests, or other previously uncultivated land has not been converted to agriculture."

The groups point to an EPA study that shows although aggregate cultivated acres have stayed below 2007 levels, "Millions of acres of native land have been converted to cropland to grow corn for ethanol during this time, in contravention of both the text and purposes of EISA."

"Just as land conversion for the production of renewable biomass contravenes EISA’s text and fundamental climate and environmental objectives, so too does indirect conversion resulting from the cultivation of crops displaced by the production of renewable biomass," the petition said.

"This indirect conversion causes the very climate and environmental harms that EISA was designed to prevent. Though not contrary to a specific provision of the statutory text, this indirect conversion of land is antithetical to the purposes of the statute."

"It is true that some cropland previously used for wheat, cotton, other coarse grains, and hay has been converted to corn over the past decade," Cooper said. "It is also true that some cropland previously enrolled in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) returned to corn production, because Congress mandated a reduction in CRP acres. But there is no credible evidence whatsoever to support the notion that native prairie and grassland have been plowed under to make room for more corn."

Cooper said the environmental groups also mischaracterize an EPA study, "Which states clearly that any potential recent expansion in cropland likely came from idle cropland, pasture or fallow cropland returning to crop production — not native grassland conversion."

Environmental groups signing the petition include ActionAid USA, American Bird Conservancy, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Conservation Northwest, Hoosier Environmental Council, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Mighty Earth, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and Wild Idea Buffalo Co.

"Congress recognized that conversion of native land to cropland releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, increases water pollution and eliminates wildlife habitat. For years, however, EPA has completely ignored its legal obligation by refusing to enforce these crucial environmental protections."