Watchdog to study ethanol’s environmental impact

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog is launching a project to analyze the environmental impact of the federal ethanol mandate.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) sent a letter to agency officials Thursday about starting the project.

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Some environmental groups and other ethanol opponents say the mandate in the renewable fuel standard causes more carbon dioxide emissions and other environmental problems than there would be without the mandate.

The Environmental Working Group says that the requirement to blend certain volumes of ethanol into traditional gasoline spurs the destruction of forests, wildlife habitat and other landscapes to grow corn and soy for use in ethanol.

OIG investigators want to determine whether the EPA properly completed a “lifecycle analysis” of ethanol that Congress mandated in 2011, and whether the agency is generally following reporting requirements that Congress has asked for.

The announcement came the same week that researchers from the University of Tennessee released a study finding that the ethanol mandate has hampered development of other biofuels that could actually reduce greenhouse gases and help the environment.

Smarter Fuel Future, a coalition of business groups that oppose the ethanol mandate including oil and food interests, commissioned the research.

That group released a television advertisement to highlight negative research on the environmental impact of ethanol.

“Ethanol mandates were supposed to be part of a clean-energy future. But mandating corn for ethanol doubles greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline over 30 years,” the voiceover in the ad says.

“Mounting scientific evidence has revealed the inconvenient truth: Increasing ethanol mandates can actually make things worse.”

Smart Fuel Future said ot and other allies are spending a “significant” amount of money on the campaign, which will focus on the Washington, D.C., area.

The Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers, shot back at the Smart Fuel Future research, saying numerous other studies back up the ethanol industry’s claim that the fuel is good for the environment.

“Petroleum industry-funded studies like this University of Tennessee report fail to take into account the positive role that biofuels like ethanol play in the fight against climate change,” Geoff Cooper, the ethanol group’s senior vice president, said in a statement.