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Deforestation in Argentina's Chaco forest region. Photo: Jim Wickens / Ecostorm

The U.S. biofuels mandate is driving destruction of ecologically vital forests in Argentina to make way for soybean fields, despite U.S. policy aimed at preventing imports of biodiesel linked to deforestation, according to a new report out today.

The report, available here, from the groups Mighty Earth and ActionAid USA (two groups that oppose biodiesel), is broadly critical of biodiesel's environmental footprint. But the research is focused on the Chaco region of Argentina, where a team led by the environmental investigation group Ecostorm conducted an on-the-ground inquiry, the groups said.

  • “The Chaco has become a deforestation ‘hot spot,’ and studies conclude that expansion for soybean crops, Argentina’s top export, is the primary driver,” the report states.
  • “At the sites we visited alone, we witnessed more than 30,000 acres of deforestation, just a small slice of the overall deforestation for soy in Argentina."

Why it matters: The report is another data point in the intense battle over the environmental footprint of federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a 2007 law that has required increased use of ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels.

  • More broadly, it arrives at a time when there’s new interest on Capitol Hill in changes to the mandate, largely because oil industry interests who oppose RFS for other reasons are strongly pushing for altering the program.

One level deeper: U.S. policy restricts biodiesel imports to fuels made from crops grown on land that was already cleared or cultivated in 2007. But the report argues that big agribusiness companies are engaged in a "shell game" that effectively voids that protection despite following the "letter of the law."

  • "[I]t appears as if the soy industry has merely shifted soy production for other uses to the Chaco, Amazon, Brazilian Cerrado, and other South American ecosystems in order to meet the technical requirements of the RFS, while still driving massive deforestation to expand their overall soy operations," it states.

State of play: The U.S. has imposed trade restrictions against biodiesel imports from Argentina and Indonesia. But the report says the deforestation in Argentina should be a "cautionary tale" and that unless policymakers end the biodiesel mandate, soy cultivation for biodiesel will expand elsewhere, with similar risks.

Go deeper

Updated 5 mins ago - Economy & Business

Hybrid work now dominates the knowledge economy

llustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, most knowledge workers are in hybrid work arrangements, partly remote and partly in-office, a new survey finds.

By the numbers: 58% said they now work this way, in a survey of around 10,000 knowledge workers from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan, conducted last November by Future Forum, a research group backed by Slack.

Rents hit all-time high

Data: Zumper; Chart: Axios Visuals

The national median price of a one-bedroom rental apartment in January was up 12% year-over-year, to $1,374 — an all-time high, per Zumper, an online apartment rental site.

Why it matters: Inflation is taking a bigger bite out of people's paychecks these days not only in food and gasoline, but also in housing costs.

A pandemic victim: Ethical supply chains

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the last decade, global companies have put in place elaborate policies to ensure their suppliers protect worker safety and human rights. They're struggling to comply with those policies in the pandemic.

Driving the news: COVID-era disruptions have caused a spike in noncompliance with health and safety rules, according to new data from Qima, which audits supply chains.