The Obama administration has proposed the first reduction of ethanol in the nation's fuel supply. The move acknowledges the biofuels law championed by both parties in 2007 is not working as well as expected.
The Associated Press reports that change would mean in 2014 nearly 3 billion gallons less of ethanol and other biofuels would be blended into gasoline.
The 2007 law was trying to address global warming by requiring oil companies to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into gasoline each year. The politicians who wrote the law didn't anticipate fuel economy to improve as much as it has in recent years. That improvement has reduced the demand for gasoline.
EPA officials said if the administration stuck to the volumes mandated by law, the amount of biofuel required would generate more ethanol than many engines can safely handle.
Activity in Washington on the renewable fuels issue had picked up a lot since Congress returned from the shutdown. The White House had hosted 17 meetings on the rule since Congress returned on Oct. 21.
The plan for the reduction isn't likely to mean much for consumers at the pump, it could cut into farmers' profits for corn, the primary ethanol source.
Advocates for renewable fuels have also lobbied hard against the change. Bob Dinneen, head of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the proposal can not stand. Dinneen said the announcement is ill-timed as the country is currently harvesting a record corn crop.
He also claimed the EPA does not have the authority to lower the requirement. He threatened a lawsuit if the proposal isn't altered.
However, a recent AP investigation has found that corn-based ethanol's environmental effect is far worse than the government predicted or admits.
Another Associated Press report notes that the Conservation Reserve Program has seen steep declines in conservation acres in several northwestern Minnesota counties between 2006 to 2012. At the same time corn acreage in the region grew by triple-digit percentages.
The AP says in Polk County CRP acres declined by 21 percent while corn planting increased by 326 percent. While Marshall County saw an 11 percent decline in CRP acres and a 519 percent increase in corn acreage.
University of Minnesota-Crookston director of the Center for Sustainability, Dan Svedarsky, told the AP that he has seen a "massive transfer" of erodible land in the region from conservation into production of corn and soybeans in just the past two years.
Svedarsky said the boom has come with a price. He says that price doesn't just include water quality but also water quantity. Additional drainage coming off fields means more runoff flowing into the already flood-prone Red River Valley watershed.