EPA Denies Texas Temporary Easing Of Ethanol Rules

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday denied a request by Texas to temporarily cut federal ethanol requirements for the nation's fuel supply, saying the state had not proved that the recent rise in corn prices is severely hurting its economy.

Under the energy law signed late last year, 9 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel must be blended into gasoline between Sept. 1, 2008, and Aug. 31, 2009, to meet a national Renewable Fuels Standard. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) sought to reduce that to 4.5 billion gallons, on the grounds that the mandate is hurting livestock producers and increasing food costs.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson said while "the agency recognizes that a number of factors have contributed to high corn, food, and fuel prices as a nation," it does not believe the renewable fuels requirement is "causing severe economic harm" to Texas.

The mandate, Johnson argued, "is strengthening our nation's energy security and supporting Americans' farming communities."

Perry, who spoke by phone with Johnson before the announcement, said he was "greatly disappointed with the EPA's inability to look past the good intentions of this policy to see the significant harm it is doing to farmers, ranchers and American households. For the EPA to assert that this federal mandate is not affecting food prices not only goes against common sense, but every American's grocery bill."

An unusual coalition -- including environmental groups and oil refiners -- had pushed for a suspension of the biofuels mandate, saying that the increase in corn production is hurting wildlife habitat and consumers while failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Recent scientific studies suggest that corn-based ethanol produces the same global warming pollution as fossil fuels when calculations include the impact of cleared land and the energy it takes to produce ethanol.

"America should be focusing on viable clean energy solutions like conservation, solar and wind," said Sandra Schubert, government affairs director for the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. "Instead, the misguided corn ethanol mandate is forcing farmers to plow up marginal land and wildlife habitat while increasing global warming and dumping toxic fertilizers and pesticides into our precious water sources."

Johnson said the agency did not examine the requirement's impact on the environment because "that was not the subject of the petition," but he added that the EPA is working on a rulemaking process, to be released this fall, which would analyze the amount of greenhouse gases produced by biofuels over the course of their entire life cycle.

"So that is going to be a key element for the future," he said.

Biofuel producers hailed the EPA's decision. Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen said that if the agency had granted Perry's request, it "would have sabotaged the development and growth of new technologies and a cellulosic biofuels industry."

"Most economists now recognize the real severe economic harm is being done by the skyrocketing price of oil and not by ethanol production," Dinneen said in a statement.

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