Opponents of America’s Renewable Fuels Standard have launched new assaults on the eight-year-old mandate that requires refiners to blend steadily increasing amounts of ethanol and other alternatives – up to 36 billion gallons in 2022 – into the nation’s fuel supply.

Yesterday the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), as part of a coalition of food, farm and oil industry groups, filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that it reverse the DC Circuit Court’s August 2012 decision to dismiss its challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to allow gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol (E15) to be sold for cars manufactured in the 2007 model year or later. 

The original suit objected to the EPA’s decision on the grounds that granting a “partial waiver” of the Clean Air Act allowing E15 to be used only in cars built after model year 2006 is not within the agency’s legal authority. The petitioners argued that under the Clean Air Act the EPA administrator may only grant a waiver for a new fuel additive if it “will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system.” 

Last August, the DC Circuit dismissed the case on the grounds that none of the 17 petitioners had standing to challenge the E15 waivers.

Earlier this month, South Dakota State University released results from a satellite imagery-based study that found that from 2006 to 2011, U.S. farmers converted more than 1.3 million acres from grassland to corn and soybean production. The researchers believe the loss of this grassland is having adverse impacts on water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat in a region that includes Iowa, Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Environmental Working Group says the South Dakota State research bolsters the findings of a 2012 EWG report – Plowed Under – that tracked land conversion in all 50 states. They claim both studies compellingly document the accelerating pace of grassland conversion, which is having dire consequences for the environment in the western Corn Belt and beyond.

The South Dakota researchers, Christopher K. Wright and Michael C. Wimberley, focused on grassland conversion in areas close to wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region – a critical Midwest flyway for migratory birds. They wrote that, “in South Dakota... 80 percent of grassland conversion is occurring within 500 meters of neighboring wetlands.”

Yesterday’s petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by the Grocery Manufacturers Association seeks to reverse a decision last August by the DC Circuit that held that none of the 17 petitioners had standing to challenge the E15 waivers.

“The procedural grounds on which the DC Circuit Court based its split decision to dismiss our petition are unfounded,” said GMA Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Louis Finkle. “All the while, the significant issues at the heart of our case continue to go unanswered. In the end, it’s consumers who will pay the heaviest toll for the court’s decision, as it cleared the way for an expansion of misguided food–to-fuel policies at a time when Americans can least afford it.”

Finkle also stated what other opponents of the RFS have been claiming, that implementation of the RFS has had “a profound negative impact on the economy and the structure of markets in energy, agricultural commodities and food manufacturing.  The application of the RFS to allow E15 into the market will only exacerbate a situation that is already having a negative impact on consumers and the economy.

 “The available supply and price of corn and other affected commodities has an enormous impact on the cost inputs to food production,” Finkle said.  “As hard as food and beverage companies work to deliver safe, nutritious food to consumers at affordable prices, the laws of economics dictate that consumers will feel the effects of these higher input costs at the retail level at a time when many families are struggling.

“The original suit filed argued that EPA had exceeded its authority and violated the law when approving the use of E15; but more importantly, it put consumers at risk of food insecurity.  These facts have not changed. We continue to support this position and are now looking to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision of the lower court to ensure that GMA and the coalition’s arguments are heard.”

Groups involved in the lawsuit include: American Meat Institute, National Chicken Council, National Council of Chain Restaurants of the National Retail Federation, North American Meat Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and the Snack Food Association.