Biofuel’s Dirty Secret: Toxic Chemicals Threatening Communities Under the Name of Green

A new report has claimed that alternative energy might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Here are the details.

Biofuel’s Dirty Secret

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For years, the biofuel industry has sold itself as the planet’s hero – the cleaner, greener alternative to oil and gas. But a new report has exposed a dark secret within the industry: biofuel refineries are spewing toxic chemicals into farm communities all over the United States – and it’s worse than anyone imagined.

The Environmental Integrity Project Report

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A new report from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has allegedly blown the lid off the biofuel industry. The report alleges that these so-called green saviors are actually major polluters – in some cases releasing more toxic chemicals than the oil refineries they were supposed to replace.

Not So Green After All?

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Kira Dunham, a researcher at EIP, summed up the report: “The industry claims biofuels are a better alternative, but what we found is that biofuels are a pretty significant source of hazardous air pollutants.”

Digging into the Data

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Dunham’s team dug into emissions data from the EPA and from individual states, so let’s break down the details.

A Toxic Cocktail in the Air

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The 275 ethanol, biodiesel, and renewable diesel plants in the U.S. are pumping out chemicals that have been linked to long-term cancer, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, hexane, and acrolein at huge levels, in “significantly greater amounts (…) than oil refineries.”

Biofuel vs. Oil Refineries

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In 2022 alone, these biofuel refineries emitted 12.9 million pounds of hazardous air pollutants – nearly matching the 14.5 million pounds from oil refineries.

The Acrolein Problem

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EIP’s analysis revealed that the biofuel industry is the top source of acrolein, a chemical that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and shortness of breath.

The Biggest Polluters?

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On top of emitting more greenhouse gasses than the surrounding oil refineries, Agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland’s (ADM) plant in Illinois is the country’s biggest hexane polluter – a toxin that’s been linked to severe nerve damage. Imagine living near these toxic time bombs.

Local Impact

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As Robert Hirschfeld from the Prairie Rivers Network explained, “People near Decatur [Illinois] are constantly exposed to air pollution that can harm their brains and cause dizziness and nausea.”

Water Pollution Concerns

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These biofuel refineries are having a negative effect on local areas, as Hirschfeld says, “Corn production for ethanol has resulted in so much pollution that Illinois residents are advised not to swim in, eat fish out of, or drink water from streams and rivers across the state.”

The Biofuel Boom

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Despite these findings, the biofuel industry is gearing up to grow even bigger. Thanks to billions in support from the Biden administration, new biofuel facilities are appearing across the nation. Most of these are focused on producing “green” aviation fuel from plants and wood – although how green it actually is remains to be seen.

Good Intentions Gone Awry?

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The Renewable Fuel Standard, first passed in 2005, was supposed to wean the U.S. off foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Neither of those aims was achieved, and instead, it turned the nation into the world’s top biofuel producer – with 40% of its corn and 50% of its soybeans going straight into fuel tanks.

Green or Greed?

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As the EIP’s report found that these plants are impacting air quality and also contributing to climate change, it’s caused many to question what the purpose of these plants is. The irony is thick – an industry meant to be green is expanding while spewing tons of pollution.

Unintended Consequences 

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Biofuels were supposed to be a great solution to save the planet, but it turns out it’s not that simple. Some studies are pointing to biofuels as having actually caused more problems – deforestation and massive carbon emissions, to be specific.

Biofuel VS Gasoline

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One study from 2022 found that corn ethanol’s carbon footprint is around a quarter higher than regular gasoline.

How the Industry Avoids Oversight

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According to the EIP report, the biofuel industry has been sneaky about avoiding regulations, thanks in no small part to lobbyists. 

Regulatory Loopholes

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Back in 2007, the EPA let corn ethanol plants off the hook from the strict Clean Air Act requirements, letting them pollute twice as much before they needed stricter permits.

A Pattern of Non-Compliance

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It gets worse – the report found that between mid-2021 and mid-2024, over 40% of biofuel plants broke air pollution rules at least once. And more than a third of them failed tests to check if they were following the Clean Air Act.

The Hidden Costs of “Green” Energy

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As the biofuels industry keeps expanding under the green energy banner, the hidden costs to public health and the environment are becoming clear.

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The post Biofuel’s Dirty Secret: Toxic Chemicals Threatening Communities Under the Name of Green first appeared on EcoHugo.

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