But for Democrats and Republicans looking for a win in last years energy bill, the renewable fuel standard seemed like a natural target. Mandating an increase in corn-based ethanol while encouraging research on greener fuels was seen as the future to reducing the countrys dependence on foreign oil.
Yet five months later, rising food and fuel prices have led an ever-growing number of industries to argue that the ethanol mandate must be revoked.
The environmental lobby is the latest to enter the fray, ramping up its efforts as part of a wide-ranging coalition of food producers, oil refiners, livestock producers and hunger advocates to put the kibosh on the mandate that requires 36 billion gallons of ethanol be produced yearly by 2022, up from about 7 billion gallons last year.
The Clean Air Task Force, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Working Group and Earth Policy Institute sent a letter to Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) last week in advance of a hearing he chaired for the Energy and Commerce panels Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality relating to food and fuel prices.
The Renewable Fuels Standard was based on the sound premise that America needs a reliable, renewable and environmentally beneficial alternative to current carbon intensive fuels, they wrote, asking for Congress to re-examine the biofuels issue. But any solutions we embrace must be sustainable for the environment and for people.
The move was the largest effort by the environmental lobby to remove the biofuels mandate.
As such, the groups joined a large coalition that the Grocery Manufacturers Association is helping organize. Although the industries arent lined up on everything relating to RFS and renewable energy, they are pushing for Congress to re-evaluate the mandates, subsidies and tariffs that divert more corn to the fuel supply, instead of food, Scott Faber of GMA said. Faber formerly worked at the Environmental Defense Fund.
The environmental groups arent strangers to the ethanol issue. Most opposed the RFS mandate in the energy bill, but stayed either neutral on the entire bill or were supportive because it included improved fuel economy for cars. In fact, the Clean Air Task Force says it has been working on the problem of corn-based ethanol since last fall. But the task forces Jonathan Lewis said the current political situation created a perfect storm to make Congress aware of their concerns about the environmental impact of potential crop displacement and carbon emissions.
Our bottom-line message is Congress is flying blind on this issue, Lewis said. You are influencing two huge commodity markets, and they have no idea how that process is going to play out.
While most of the environmental community is aligned on the ethanol issue, one key environmental group the Natural Resource Defense Council is missing. The giant organization, which has more than 1.2 million members and online activists, has been supportive of biofuels and corn-based ethanol for the past several years, breaking with the larger environmental community.