New Survey: Vast Majority of Environmentalists Want RFS Corn Ethanol Mandates Reduced

With Incoming Trump Administration, Reforms to Ethanol Mandates Could Provide Early, Bipartisan Win

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the Trump administration readies to take the reins, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) could serve as one of the first opportunities for a bipartisan energy policy win in Washington.

New polling released today by the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF), independently conducted at its request by the Democratic polling firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, characterizes and quantifies for the first time how environmentally minded voters and professional staff from some of the nation’s leading environmental advocacy groups view the RFS. Among this group, the poll finds that 70 percent would like to see significant reductions in the amount of corn-based ethanol that’s mandated to be added to the nation’s fuel supply mix.

“With Mr. Trump’s election, major changes are coming to the energy front in Washington, D.C. and ethanol mandates should be a priority,” said George David Banks, executive vice president of ACCF. “As our new polling reveals, the environmental community has strong concerns with EPA’s corn ethanol mandates, which could generate momentum for a bipartisan solution to addressing this failed policy.”

As poorly as corn ethanol fared among the wider set of 1,000 environmentally conscious voters that were surveyed, it did even worse among those who identified themselves as working for an environmental or conservation organization. Among that segment, 80 percent of respondents said they’d favor an RFS that did more to promote advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol, at the expense of corn-based ethanol. Only seven percent said they’d strongly oppose efforts to recalibrate the program away from its reliance on corn. And only 39 percent believe that corn ethanol’s preferential status in Washington is a function of “science indicat[ing] that its usage is an effective way to combat climate change.” In contrast, a strong plurality believes that corn occupies the position it does within the RFS largely because of the strength of the corn industry’s lobbying efforts in Washington.

“While our polling strongly suggests that environmentalists would like to see some form of the RFS remain intact in future years, it also indicates overwhelming opposition to the program’s heavy reliance on corn ethanol,” said Zac McCrary, who conducted the research on behalf of Anzalone Liszt Grove Research. “These findings come through not only in the quantitative portion of the survey, but also in the individual interviews we conducted with some of the nation’s leading and most respected environmental organizations. These experts almost universally believe that corn ethanol has been a net-negative when it comes to addressing climate change.”

Senior experts and officials from a number of high-profile environmental organizations participated in this research, including: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); League of Conservation Voters (LCV); Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS); Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); Environmental Working Group (EWG); The Nature Conservancy; NextGen Climate; the Wilderness Society; the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions; and others.

According to the polling:

  • Among climate-focused voters, corn ethanol is significantly less popular than other clean energy sources, including advanced biofuels. Nearly a third (30 percent) of respondents have an unfavorable view of corn ethanol, while only three percent and five percent have unfavorable views of solar and wind power, respectively. Four-in-five (80 percent) of respondents view advanced biofuels favorably.
  • Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents believe the country should “reduce the share of corn-based ethanol that is mandated to be part of the U.S. fuel supply.” Even more (91 percent) believe the RFS should be driven by what science shows to be the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions.

Among some of the quotes and testimonials collected as part of the qualitative portion of the research:

  • Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: “Corn ethanol of all sources has the worst emissions profile.”
  • The Nature Conservancy: “I don’t see a place for corn ethanol in the renewable energy discussion.”
  • Natural Resources Defense Council: “It’s pretty clear from my read on it that the greenhouse gas impacts of using the amount of corn that we do, are a net-negative. We’re increasing carbon emissions.”
  • Environmental Working Group: “You’d be surprised by how many groups agree with getting rid of the corn ethanol portion of the Renewable Fuel Standard.”
  • The Nature Conservancy: “The system should replace corn ethanol with cellulose ethanol driven by government policy, but it’s not effective as it’s currently structured.”
  • The Wilderness Society: “Looking at the emissions that are coming out of the tail pipe of a car, and saying that corn based ethanol is cleaner because there’s fewer emissions coming out of the consumer’s car, that’s not a whole picture.”
  • Union of Concerned Scientists: “I think for the success of the policy and the success of the broader endeavor of biofuels, we need to move beyond corn ethanol, or we’re going to stay in this quagmire.”
  • Natural Resources Defense Council: “If I had a magic wand, so that I could rewrite law and not worry about Congress doing bad things, I would get rid of the RFS corn ethanol component.”