According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general, the Obama Administration has failed to live up to its legal obligation to study the environmental impact of blending ethanol with gasoline.
Those findings, the result of an inspector general audit, confirm what the Associated Press reported back in late 2013, prompting the audit.
In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which was and signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush. Among other things, the 2007 legislation increased the Renewable Fuel Standard that mandated biofuel production, primarily ethanol, and the blending of at least some of that ethanol into the gasoline supply.
The law also stipulates that the U.S. EPA must conduct studies every three years and report to Congress on the air and water quality benefit, or lack thereof, by adding corn-based ethanol to gasoline. The purpose of that part of the law is to make sure solutions to the country’s energy needs don’t adversely affect the environment.
The 2013 AP investigation characterized the use of ethanol as having a far more negative impact on the environment than the EPA and Dept. of Energy predicted. The AP reported that with corn effectively subsidized, farmers put millions of acres of land formerly devoted to conservation into corn production, destroying animal habitats and polluting water supplies.
For its part, the EPA agreed with the IG that the agency failed to follow the law and produce the studies. The EPA said it will produce a report on the impacts of biofuels by the end of 2017 — seven years late.
Though it’s now complying with that part of the law, apparently the agency feels the triennial requirements in the law are still optional. The EPA said that it will investigate whether the ethanol mandate is making other environmental issues worse, but it will do so by September 2024. The reason that study will take another eight years, the agency claims, is that it will be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
The excuse the EPA gave the inspector general for its breaking of the law: it indeed produced one report for Congress on the effects of ethanol on the environment in December 2011, but ran out of money for future reports.
That study cost $1.7 million. The EPA has an annual budget of $8.2 billion.
The EPA shifted additional blame to Congress, saying that it never received any feedback from legislators on that first report. Essentially ignoring the 2007 law that mandates the studies every three years, the agency further asserted that three years was too short of an interval for any significant scientific advances to take place in the meantime.