By Alex Rindler
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The harm done to consumers and the environment by the federal biofuels mandate is destined to grow worse as a result of the recent decision to once again increase the amount of corn ethanol that must be added to the nation’s gasoline supply.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Aug. 6 announcement underscores the need to reform the federal program known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The law requires refiners to blend both conventional biofuels—corn ethanol—and advanced biofuels, such as soy biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol made from plant materials, into the supply of motor vehicle fuel. But with advanced biofuel technologies slow to commercialize, corn ethanol fills about 85 percent of the overall biofuels mandate.
The EPA’s decision means that refiners must increase from 13.4 billion gallons to 13.8 billion gallons the amount of corn ethanol blended into gasoline this year. This is a clear sign that U.S. biofuels policy is on the wrong track and must be reformed before more damage is done to the nation’s soil, water and air, and the global climate.
According to the EPA, corn ethanol is produced overwhelmingly in plants powered by fossil fuels. As a result, lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are 33 percent higher for natural gas-produced ethanol than for pure gasoline, and 66 percent higher for coal-produced ethanol. And under a provision of 2007 legislation that expanded the federal biofuel mandate, most of this production is exempt from greenhouse gas reduction requirements.
From 2008 to 2011, the corn ethanol mandate has contributed to the plowing up of more than 23 million acres of wetlands and grasslands to plant crops—an area the size of Indiana. Environmental Working Group recently documented this rapid destruction of wetlands and grasslands by analyzing annually updated satellite data that the Department of Agriculture uses to track land use. Other studies have also provided compelling evidence of this dramatic change to the American landscape. The accelerating conversion of wetlands and grasslands to grow crops further drives up greenhouse gas emissions by releasing carbon stored in the soil and increasing fertilizer use.
Corn ethanol also increases emissions of other air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ammonia, nitrogen oxides and ozone. In 2011, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the air quality effects of increased production and use of ethanol were more damaging to human health than those from gasoline use. The academy study also found that corn ethanol production contributes to poor water quality and is associated with the creation of oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that kill off aquatic life. This year’s dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is estimated to span more than 5,800 square miles—larger than the state of Connecticut.
Despite the compelling evidence from the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences that corn ethanol contributes to climate change and dirties air and water, the industry is allowed to further saturate the market and skirt environmental protections, putting cleaner fuels at a disadvantage.
As a nation, we’ve drifted from the original intent of the RFS, which was to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and address the threat of climate change by promoting development of cleaner motor vehicle fuels. The current mandate is requiring more ethanol production than the transportation infrastructure can physically absorb—a problem known as the “blend wall”—and doing more harm than good to the environment. Meanwhile, declining gasoline consumption and stronger fuel efficiency standards have rendered the corn ethanol mandate irrelevant.
Although the EPA did acknowledge the need to address the blend wall in 2014, it has not taken steps to significantly relax blending requirements. The agency failed to waive the ethanol mandate during last year’s historic drought, which decimated corn yields and drove prices to record highs, despite the appeal of more than 180 lawmakers and 10 governors. Because administrative action is uncertain, Congress should intercede on behalf consumers, farmers and the environment by addressing the flaws of the RFS with legislation.
It’s crucial to reform—rather than repeal—the RFS by phasing out the corn ethanol mandate. This would allow promising advanced biofuels to better compete and help get the nation back to the business of reducing the climate impacts posed by transportation.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
JasonOndreicka / iStock / Getty Images
Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.