Farm Futures logo

Multiple ag groups sue EPA over emissions standards

Separate lawsuits allege agency overstepped its authority, unfairly targets corn ethanol

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

June 20, 2024

3 Min Read
Ethanol plant and corn field
Getty Images/Photosbyjim

Biofuel advocates aren’t accepting new EPA emission rules without a fight. Over the past week, agriculture groups have filed two lawsuits alleging the agency is overstepping its Congressional authority. The results of the lawsuits are likely to impact the ethanol and electric vehicle industries for years to come.

At issue are new EPA emissions standards for light-duty and medium-duty vehicles set to go into effect in 2027. Those standards are part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spur electric vehicle industry development.

Critics say EPA’s new emission rules unfairly prioritize electric vehicles at the expense of biofuels. According to National Corn Growers Association president Harold Wolle, EPA is ignoring the climate benefits of corn ethanol by approving tailpipe standards he says focus exclusively on electric vehicles.

“While it could take decades to get enough electric vehicles on the road to significantly lower GHG emissions, ethanol is a critical and effective climate solution that is available now,” Wolle says. “We have tried to make this case to EPA to no avail, and now we will make our case in court.”

The benefits of ethanol have long been debated. Supporters point to data showing ethanol vehicle emissions are much lower than standard gasoline. New blends have also shown the potential to further reduce auto pollution.

Critics argue that ethanol’s carbon footprint goes beyond auto emissions. They say modeling shown by the industry doesn’t account for the environmental impact of producing, transporting and refining corn-based fuel. In contrast, electric vehicle emissions are only a fraction of combustible engines, be it regular gasoline or biofuels.

Ethanol supporters counter that electric vehicles’ carbon footprints are also underestimated given the mining process required to obtain key batter components. Many of those components must be sourced from other countries, including China. There are also questions regarding charging infrastructure, reliability for certain tasks, and vehicle affordability.

On June 13, NCGA joined the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Petroleum Institute and multiple auto dealers to sue EPA and Administrator Michael Regan. Their lawsuit claims EPA’s rule is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with the law.” The groups are asking a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to declare the rule unlawful.

AFBF president Zippy Duvall says EPA’s new rules will also hurt farmers. He calls the regulations impractical, driving up costs and forcing farmers to rely on a charging network that doesn’t yet exist in rural areas.

“Farmers answered the call to help America be more sustainable by growing the crops necessary for renewable fuels,” Duvall says. “Now, the rug is being pulled out from underneath them with unrealistic emissions goals that put years of investment at risk.”

Second lawsuit with similar claims

On June 17, the National Farmers Union and the Renewable Fuels Association filed a second lawsuit asking the same D.C. appellate court to review the EPA rule published in the Federal Register on April 18.

NFU and RFA representatives say they filed a separate lawsuit to ensure that ethanol producers and farmers have a “strong independent voice” in the proceedings.

“We are disappointed that the EPA has missed a critical opportunity to recognize the significant benefits of higher-level ethanol blends in its recent regulation,” NFU president Rob Larew, says. "By focusing solely on battery electric vehicles, the EPA overlooks the proven advantages of ethanol, which include reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, and increasing octane.”

According to RFA president and CEO Geoff Cooper, the notion that EVs have no climate impact is a “false premise.” By forcing automakers to focus on electric vehicles, the EPA is phasing out liquid-fueled vehicles that may potentially deliver better emission reductions.

He says the arguments in the NFU/RFA lawsuit may be more nuanced since not all liquid fuels have the same carbon impacts. They also could be impacted differently by the EPA rules.

“We expect to focus on issues within the EPA regulations that specifically impact ethanol producers and the farmers who supply our industry, such as EPA’s failure to account for the carbon reduction benefits of high-octane mid-level ethanol blends, flex fuels like E85, and flex fuel vehicles,” Cooper says.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like