This year’s drought has been so severe, so devastating, that half of all counties across the country have been designated primary disaster areas. It has affected 85 percent of the U.S. corn crop; less than a quarter of the 10.8 billion bushels expected to be harvested this year is rated good or excellent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
And yet, a federal mandate supporting renewable energy sources means more than a third of this year’s meager harvest will likely be diverted to produce ethanol.
Under a long-term energy law approved by Congress in 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated nearly 10 percent of U.S. motor fuel in 2012 would derive from renewable fuels, translating into about 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol.
Renewable fuels remain a worthy goal. But not in one of the worst droughts in recent memory.
Last month, as the scope of the weather conditions became clearer, the agency announced it would accept public comment about whether it should adjust its plan.
The law provides an exception for the EPA to waive the ethanol requirement if implementation “would severely harm the economy or environment of a state, region or the United States, or if the administration determines that there is inadequate domestic supply of renewable fuel.”
The agency has been deluged with feedback ever since, with trade groups and dozens of lawmakers and elected officials, including every member of this region’s congressional delegation, calling for relief.
Last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell lent his voice to the cause, describing the requirement as a burden that drives up feed prices and harms the commonwealth’s poultry and livestock sectors, the largest in Virginia’s $55 billion agriculture industry. Between mid-July and late August, McDonnell noted, the price of corn jumped 50 percent.
Supporters of the waiver correctly point out that adhering to this year’s ethanol requirement, even as the source of the fuel is in short supply, will have a serious effect on local, state and national economies.
The EPA has flexibility to provide immediate relief not only to farmers struggling to afford feed, but everyone else who must cover the increase in corn prices by paying more at the grocery.
The waiver should be granted.
— The Virginian-Pilot