With news of the National Wildlife Federation suing over grassland protection, it seems if it’s not one side going after the EPA these days, it’s the other. Last week we reported that NCBA and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association are suing the agency in Florida over new water nutrient standards, and that multiple ag organizations oppose a new guidance for defining waters regulated under the Clean Water Act.

But the NWA lawsuit shows how EPA takes heat based on perceptions of too little action, just as it does on perceptions it’s doing too much. Concerned over expansion of crop production to fuel the growing biofuels industry, the National Wildlife Federation’s suit accuses the agency of doing too little to protect native grasslands from agricultural development.

In a report titled “Canning Corn: Protecting America’s Grasslands from Ethanol Production,” the NWF says EPA is ignoring laws designed to protect fragile ecosystems from harmful agricultural development. The group notes that only 5 percent of America’s grasslands, which provide unique wildlife habitat and plant biodiversity, remain intact.

The Renewable Fuels Standard created by Congress and implemented by the EPA requires a certain amount of transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain renewable fuel, such as corn ethanol.

The NWF alleges that crafting the Renewable Fuels Standard, which requires a certain amount of transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain renewable fuel, Congress limited biofuel feedstock production and harvesting to agricultural lands. Natural ecosystems such as grasslands, are not supposed to be converted for agricultural uses, they claim. However, the report notes, the EPA is flaunting this important provision by adopting an “aggregate compliance approach”, which allows protected ecosystems to be destroyed for biofuels production.

 “Plowing up our nation’s last remnants of native grasslands to grow more corn for ethanol is like burning the Mona Lisa for firewood,” says Julie Sibbing, Director of Agriculture programs for the National Wildlife Federation. “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.”

In addition to providing habitat for declining species such as Sage Grouse and Prairie Chicken, the NWF also points out that native grasslands serve as huge carbon sinks, saying plowing and farming them will release 44 to 80 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per acre into the atmosphere over the next 20 years.

It seems that if any government agency can draw criticism from across the political spectrum, it’s the EPA. And among all the issues within the realm of environmental protection, few generate as much debate as using crops to produce fuel.

Read more from the NWF