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Report: Biofuel Mandate Harms Wildlife, Water Quality

Between 2008 and 2012, 162,000 acres in New York were converted to agricultural production. (Ken Lund/Flickr)
Between 2008 and 2012, 162,000 acres in New York were converted to agricultural production. (Ken Lund/Flickr)
December 16, 2016

NEW YORK - The federal Renewable Fuel Standard has led to the destruction of millions of acres of wildlife habitat and has endangered water supplies, according to a new report.

The National Wildlife Federation report, "Fueling Destruction," said wildlife has been put at risk by converting previously uncultivated land to grow corn and soybeans, the crops used to make most ethanol and biodiesel fuels. Report author David DeGennaro, an agricultural policy specialist, said a University of Wisconsin study found land conversions happening in every state.

"In New York, 162,000 acres were converted," he said, "and that runs right through the center of the state, but they're also clustered up around Lake Ontario."

The Renewable Fuel Standard was intended to reduce reliance on imported oil and to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. However, critics have said the government has failed to enforce the habitat protections in the law.

Nationally, said Collin O'Mara, the federation's president and chief executive, the results, although unintended, have been severe.

"It's affecting the entire ecosystem, and we're seeing several species that are currently at risk of potential extinction in the coming decades," he said. "The habitat they depend on is in the exact corridor where we've seen the greatest land losses."

The report recommended reducing the mandate for first-generation fuels made from corn and soy, as well as funding the protection and restoration of habitats and waterways. O'Mara said the problems stem from a federal policy that required a massive increase in agricultural production.

"Farmers are not to blame in this policy," he said. "They were rationally responding to a government mandate, and so we feel like there should be a concerted effort to work with farmers to try to restore habitat on the landscape."

The report called for prioritizing the next generation of cellulosic fuels that don't require new row-crop production.

The report is online at nwf.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY