Updates to biofuel mandate bring costs for Illinois

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID HINE
ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID HINE
ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID HINE
Illinois farmers are disappointed with the final ruling of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s update to the corn ethanol mandate. The federal government recently called for more ethanol in the nation’s gasoline supply, but not enough more to please farmers.

In November 2015, the EPA updated the Energy Policy Act of 2005, increasing the required levels of ethanol to be mixed into the nation’s gasoline supply by refineries with a final ruling of 18 billion gallons, up from the 17.4 billion gallons proposed back in May. The final ruling upset corn growers nationwide who wanted the new levels to be set at what Congress prescribed in 2007, at 22 billion gallons.

Although ethanol fuel can come from several sources, it’s primarily made from corn in the U.S. Critics of the ethanol mandate say it negatively affects the environment and small businesses, but Illinois corn growers tout it as an earth-friendly job creator.


For Illinois motorists, there won’t be any difference at the gas station. The amount of ethanol blended into each gallon of gasoline will stay the same because the larger volume of ethanol added to the nation’s gasoline supply merely reflects an increase in gasoline sales.

Shortly before the new volume was announced, the Center for Regulatory Solutions, a national advocacy group focused on reducing regulation of businesses, released a report calling for an end to the corn ethanol mandate.

The CRS report says corn ethanol production comes with unintended consequences: increased water consumption, high fuel costs, soil erosion, increased fertilizer use and contamination of water sources. The report says that, between 2005 and 2014, the Illinois ethanol industry used an average of 12 billion gallons of water, equivalent to the water consumption of approximately 126,500 households.

High fuel costs are another top issue for the Center for Regulatory Solutions. Over the past 10 years, Illinois motorists have spent an additional $5 billion in fuel costs as a result of corn ethanol being blended into the nation’s gasoline. Currently, gas prices have been quite low, so additional costs to motorists may seem like a drop in the bucket. As ethanol levels increase, the CRS estimates that gasoline costs will increase by about $16.9 billion over the next 10 years.


U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, expressed support for renewable fuels like ethanol, saying he had hoped for a higher volume in the ethanol mandate.

“I am disappointed that the biofuels volume requirements announced by the EPA are not higher,” Durbin said via press release, “but thanks to input from thousands of farmers and industry partners, this rule is much stronger than the original proposal.”

The response from the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Corn Growers Association to the updates was less upbeat.

The IFB says the newly prescribed levels of corn ethanol may leave farmers across the state looking at alternative crops to avoid losing income as demand for corn falls.

Illinois farmers are expected to experience a 47 percent decline in farm income in the 2015 crop year compared with 2012. In fact, net farm income in Illinois is forecast to decline by a “whopping” 68 percent from a 2013 high, said Jeff Jarboe, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association.


The Renewable Fuel Standard started as a movement to lower greenhouse gases, and “it has reduced global greenhouse gas emissions by more than 350 million metric tons since its enactment,” according to the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Guebert says IFB urged the federal government to increase the ethanol mandate in June, but he was hoping the new level would be closer to what Congress called for in 2007.

“It appears the agency was listening to us,” Guebert said, “but only with one ear.”

Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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