Which comes first, the chicken or the energy security? Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 2017 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandates, raising the volume of renewable fuel that must be blended into U.S. gasoline to 19.28 billion gallons in 2017 (up 5 percent from the proposed levels EPA announced in May). Nearly 15 billion gallons of that renewable fuel will come from corn-based ethanol.
Pretty much all the Biggies have complained: Big Ag complains the move diverts too much corn from feed and food; Big Oil complains blended fuels are hard on car engines and will increase gas prices; Big Renewable Fuel mostly cheers, but also complains Big Oil is a bully.
Big Corn, however, seems pretty psyched. Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association said in a statement on the organization’s website, “Today the EPA moved in the right direction by increasing the 2017 ethanol volume to statute. This is critical for farmers facing difficult economic times, as well as for consumers who care about clean air, affordable fuel choices, and lowering our dependence on foreign oil.” It stands to reason: Big Corn gets to keep its really big customer, the U.S. gas supply.
As for our Big Global Climate, supposed beneficiary of such regulation, there are plenty of arguments that cast a shadow on the environmental impact of ethanol and other biofuels. For a good primer on the potentially bad results of ethanol reliance (harmful land conversions, wildlife habitat destruction, and refinery pollution among them) John M. Deciccio, a research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, wrote a compelling op-ed for The Hill in August of 2015, in which he suggests climate protection can be ensured only by a repeal of the biofuel mandate.
Who will be the biggest loser in the battle of the Bigs? You know the drill: That remains to be seen.