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National Wildlife Federation suing EPA over grassland development for biofuels

The National Wildlife Federation recently filed suit against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court in Washington, DC, charging that the EPA is failing to enforce laws that protect imperiled grasslands from destructive and unnecessary agricultural development related to the production of biofuels.

At issue is the EPA’s adoption of an aggregate compliance approach, which, the NWF charges, “allows fragile and federally protected ecosystem like America’s grasslands to be destroyed for biofuels production”. NWF accuses the EPA of violating grasslands protection inherent in the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Plowing up our nation’s last remnants of native grasslands to grow more corn for ethanol is like burning the Mona Lisa for firewood. We are shocked that the EPA would choose to ignore this statutory prohibition, further exposing grassland birds—the fastest declining group of birds in North America—to further habitat destruction.

—Julie Sibbing, Director of Agriculture programs for the National Wildlife Federation

Background. Changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2) were published in the Federal Register on 26 March 2010 and became effective in July 2010. On 24 May 2010, Friends of the Earth, World Wildlife Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Clean Air Task Force submitted petitions for reconsideration of the renewable biomass aggregate compliance approach finalized in the RFS2.

EPA denied the petition in February 2011. EPA established a baseline level of qualifying domestic agricultural land that qualifies under EISA for the production of crop and crop residue, and only requires individual record keeping and reporting if that baseline level of agricultural land is found through an annual EPA determination to have been exceeded (aggregate compliance). EPA had identified this aggregate land approach in the NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) as a possible supplemental investigatory tool for verifying compliance with renewable biomass requirements under the RFS2 standard, but determined in the final rule that it provided a reasonable implementation approach standing alone, and was superior to the feedstock baseline approach.

The proposed aggregate feedstock approach was modified for several reasons. Under an aggregate approach that establishes a baseline level of feedstock production, feedstock volumes would have to be feedstock specific, which poses a number of logistical problems for an aggregate approach. It would be difficult to determine whether an exceedance of a feedstock baseline represented simply an increase in yield or the growth of the feedstock on existing agricultural lands that had previously been devoted to other agricultural purposes. By changing the focus of the aggregate approach to the number of acres used for agricultural purposes, EPA was able to shift the inquiry more closely to the issue in question—whether new lands may be introduced for growth of biofuel feedstocks. The approach allows increases in yields and shifting in acres of land devoted to growing various agricultural products without presenting a “false positive” result.

—EPA response to the petition

In denying the petition, EPA said that:

  • The petitioners should have raised their concerns regarding the aggregate compliance approach during the comment period, but failed to do so;

  • Petitioners have not asserted grounds for their objections that arose only after the public comment period; and

  • Petitioners’ assertions regarding the aggregate compliance approach are not of central relevance to the outcome of the RFS2 rule.

Comments

Reel$$

One has to wonder if the plaintiffs here are familiar with another lawsuit regarding protection of birds and grassland:

Golden Gate Audubon and four other chapters of local Audubon filed suit against Alameda County CA, for mass bird kills at the Altamont Pass wind farm.

http://bit.ly/myX18R

“Wind turbine operations in the Altamont Pass kill as many as 9,600 birds each year, including many species that are fully protected by state and federal laws,” said Mike Lynes, Conservation Director for Golden Gate Audubon.

"The Altamont Pass became one of the world’s largest wind farms in the 1980s as companies, spurred by enthusiasm for alternative energy and federal economic incentives, installed more than 5,500 wind turbines across 80 miles of the hilly grassland habitat."

One might wonder if installation of 5,500 turbines across grassland isn't more destructive to habitat and bird life than renewable crops like miscanthus.

Jer

"... to grow more corn for ethanol is like burning the Mona Lisa for firewood..."

And this is why it is so hard for the voting public to take environmental special interest groups seriously. It is amazing what well-thought-out logical argument, thorough data gathering, and plausible scientific method will get you when well-presented. No cuddly pandas or starry-eyed seals over here. Its time to get Science you enviro-nuts - then we can really start to understand how economic interests are impacting environmental issues. Guess what - mankind has to co-habitate with nature and we have to both prove our worth. Earth First was extinguished back in the 70s.

SJC

They could plant the land in switchgrass, which is native prairie grass and mow it twice per year with very little disruption to the ecology. Somehow I think that they would manage to find a way to oppose this as well.

HarveyD

Wind farms and switchgrass production can co-exist in the same area without crating environmental disaster. Very large, slower turning wind turbine, can easily be equipped to divert birds and bats away from blades. Most birds can fly through slow turning blades without getting hurt.

Nick Lyons

Altamont pass is a disaster for birds--small, first gen turbines low to the ground in a known migration route and raptor habitat. See:

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/protecting_birds_of_prey_at_altamont_pass/

Reel$$

Neo-Malthusian enviro-nuts of all sort oppose the idea of growing fuel - be it corn or cellulosic. Why? Because they hate people... who drive cars. They may hate EV drivers slightly less but this group of "greens" give the whole enviro movement a bad name IMO.

SJC

Altamont was done in the early 70s when no one had a real good idea of what wind power was nor how to do it right. We have come a long way since then.

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