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Report: Ethanol, Renewable Fuel Standard Hurt the Environment

The habitat favored by the greater sage grouse has been reduced greatly by conversion to cropland driven by the renewable-fuel standard. (twildlife/iStockphoto)
The habitat favored by the greater sage grouse has been reduced greatly by conversion to cropland driven by the renewable-fuel standard. (twildlife/iStockphoto)
December 16, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. - Millions of acres of prime prairie habitat have been eaten up by agriculture in recent years because the renewable-fuel standard drives up demand for corn and soybeans to make ethanol and biodiesel, according to a new report.

David DeGennaro, an agricultural policy specialist for the National Wildlife Federation who authored the report, "Fueling Destruction: How the Federal Mandate for Ethanol Has Destroyed Wildlife Habitat Across the Country," said New Mexico in particular has seen a significant conversion of grasslands to crops.

"Following implementation of the renewable fuel standard, more than 93,000 acres in the state were converted into agriculture," he said. "That's an area about four times the size of Santa Fe, so it's a pretty large impact based on agricultural conversion."

That conversion has greatly shrunk the available habitat for grassland nesting birds such as pheasants and the greater sage grouse, as well as pollinators such as monarch butterflies, according to the report.

The need for the mandate is vigorously defended by agricultural interests. Ethanol is a component of gasoline.

Collin O'Mara, the federation's president and chief executive, said that between 2008 and 2012, more than 7.3 million acres across America were converted into cropland.

"As we've seen this insatiable government-created demand increase and increase, wildlife and sportsman are the two that are losing out over and over again," he said. "This policy, while very well-intentioned, has created just disastrous unintended consequences."

The report called on Congress to lower the renewable-fuel standard and prioritize more advanced fuel crops such as switchgrass that require less water and are more compatible as wildlife habitat.

The report is online at nwf.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NM