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Fri. December 01, 2023
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Relooking the Current Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program
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By Monique Baskin

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program undermines US goals on climate change. Biofuel produced under current law is not suitable for the majority of vehicles, which leads to continued use of fossil fuel based gasoline. In addition, while biofuels have low to no greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions compared to fossil fuels, there is no net benefit realized when considering emissions required to produce corn-based ethanol. We need to cut subsidies for corn-based ethanol and reduce its role in the overall biofuel mix. Corn can return to its role as food and a feedstock for millions.

Cutting subsidies for corn-based ethanol production will help both the environment and the economy. Doing so will reduce overall GHG emissions and will free up resources for investments in far more environmentally friendly areas of biofuel technology such as methane from animal and municipal solid waste, and biofuel from non-food parts of crops, such as leaves and stems. It will also restore the role of corn as a leading agricultural export.

Restoring corn to its place as a food will also help keep global food prices stable. Right now, subsidies for ethanol artificially inflate corn prices and corn production. The result is higher world prices for other staple foods such as soybeans and wheat, an increase by 20 and 17 percent respectively, because land for those crops has been switched to corn production.

A reduction in corn ethanol production will also encourage development of alternate fuels and advanced technology passenger vehicle innovation. Advanced technology vehicles such as biodiesel, hydrogen, and natural gas and electric vehicles will have space in the market to grow.  

Some claim that reducing corn ethanol volumes will hurt farmers. While there will be transition costs and there will always be price fluctuations, great opportunities will exist in long-term market growth. Globally, agricultural exports for corn decreased by as much as 62 percent from 2005-2008 mostly because of ethanol production. In 2005, the US surpassed Brazil as the world’s largest ethanol producer at 3 billion gallons. Today, US production is 14 billion gallons. Reducing corn-based ethanol volumes will restore and expand export markets.

The Renewable Fuel Standard program needs a transformation that will take it from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. Reducing the role of corn ethanol in the biofuel mix and developing fuels whose production cycle reduces GHG emissions will achieve several goals:

- Reduce dependence on foreign oil and help the US meet climate change targets

- Increase US agricultural export earnings

- Provide food to millions around the world at more affordable prices.

In sum, a better biofuel mix will help our economy and environment, help make food more affordable, and help hungry people everywhere.


Monique Baskin is an International Affairs Masters and Environmental Health Science and Policy Graduate Certificate Candidate at the Elliott School of International Affairs and Milken Institute School of Public Health. 

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