Eric Eisenhammer, 15 September 2015

As Californians face mandatory water restrictions due to a severe drought, growing biofuels – long considered a solution to climate change – may actually be worse for water shortages than the effects of global warming itself. According to a new peer-reviewed study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, growing biofuels and the policies in place to increase their use are worse for drought than global warming.

California is the biggest corn ethanol consumer out of all 50 states, guzzling more than 1.2 billion gallons of biofuel in 2012. By comparison, the federal mandate requiring ethanol be blended into fuel and supplying California with ethanol-laced gas consumed 42 billion gallons of water in 2012 alone.

What’s worse is that recent reports suggest the water used to supply energy to California has increased four-fold over the past twenty years, with the bulk of water used for biofuels grown in the Midwest to supply our car-loving culture with fuel.

The quandary facing California shows how the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is broken and riddled with unintended consequences. Originally intended to provide an environmentally-friendly and homegrown alternative to fossil fuels, the RFS has proven to do more harm than good when it comes to global warming, worse on emissions and now, on water supply. The latest study once again shows that ethanol will do little to counteract the effects of climate change, saying that if biofuels aren’t “designed with careful attention to water resources” their use could increase the magnitude, area, and frequency of droughts.

Consider that in order to grow corn for ethanol, an estimated 4,000 gallons of water is needed per bushel of corn. By the year 2030, if the mandate remains unchanged, almost one in 10 gallons of the water consumed in the United States could go toward growing biofuels. That’s more water than the entire American population consumes today.

With Republican presidential candidates headed to Simi Valley for their second debate onSeptember 16, now would be a great time to ask them what they would do to ease the drought and if doing away with the ethanol mandate is part of their solution.  It should be. Only a handful of candidates, including Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, have come out against the RFS. Many others have refused to denounce the corn ethanol mandate despite overwhelming evidence that corn ethanol is failing to deliver on its promise, and exacerbating rather than easing global warming.

California’s drought doesn’t have a quick fix. But if policymakers want to make progress, the RFS is a good place to start. Some lawmakers have gotten on board. This year, legislation was introduced in both the House and the Senate to reform or repeal the corn ethanol mandate. Our own Senator Diane Feinstein co-wrote a bill with Senator Pat Toomey of Rhode Island to eliminate the corn ethanol mandate altogether. I applaud both senators for taking the proper action needed to get our water supply back on track. The rest of Congress – and the presidential candidates – must now get on board and fix the broken RFS.

Extracted in full from the Fox & Hounds.