Ag groups: EPA harming biofuels industry

SALEM, Ohio — The Environmental Protection Agency is touting its newly proposed renewable fuels standards as earth-saving and job-creating, but ag groups are looking at the plan with raised eyebrows, calling the agency’s goals unattainable and a harm to the domestic biofuels industry.

“You are going to kill off the biofuels industry before it ever gets started. You’re in bed with the oil companies,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson during hearings on the matter last week on Capitol Hill.

[Listen to comments made during the hearing by Collin Peterson.]

The hearings came just a day after President Barack Obama directed USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to aggressively accelerate the investment in biofuels.

“We are very upset with the path EPA has taken us down and sent that message back loud and clear in today’s hearing,” said House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research Chairman Tim Holden of Pennsylvania.

“We need to expand the reach of biofuels, not hamper the farmer and forest owner.”

Land use claims

The proposal would require production of 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels; 15 billion gallons annually of conventional biofuels; 4 billion gallons of advanced biofuels; and 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel by the time the plan is fully phased in, in 2022.

Of particular concern to the agricultural community is EPA’s proposed rule for indirect land use. That policy refers to the greenhouse gas emissions caused by land converted to crop production both in the U.S. and globally to keep up with biofuel production.

Initial review of EPA’s rule suggests they have used land conversions to cropland that occurred 2001-2004 and extrapolated that data to estimate potential cropland expansions, a method agricultural groups are calling flawed.

“The life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions for soy biodiesel that EPA has proposed are derived from faulty indirect land use assumptions, flawed analysis and misplaced penalties,” said Johnny Dodson, president of the American Soybean Association.

The fact that little U.S. soy biodiesel was produced from 2001 to 2004 should provide indication that soy biodiesel does not drive land use change, the soybean association asserts, and that land use changes should not be blamed on the production of biofuels.

Reductions

Under the proposed regulations, some renewable fuels must achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to the gasoline and diesel fuels they displace in order for refiners to receive credit toward meeting the new standards.

The thresholds would be 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions for renewable fuels produced from new facilities, 50 percent less for biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels, and 60 percent less for cellulosic biofuels.

Despite the high standards biofuels are forced to meet, gasoline emissions were not taken into consideration and petroluem-based fuels are not held to the same standards.

Under the existing Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model used by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, biodiesel has been proven to achieve a 78 percent greenhouse gas reduction relative to petroleum diesel.

“Why would you put indirect costs on corn and soybeans and not put it on oil? What about all the indirect of protecting the oil shipping lanes in the Middle East? This is ridiculous what’s going on here,” Collin Peterson said.

Where’s the science?

“The frustration expressed by House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson echoes our own concerns around the EPA’s inclusion of indirect land use change penalties against biofuels,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, a green energy group.

Buis said nearly all those who testified at the hearing were skeptical of EPA’s decision to move forward with the indirect land use change component, because it is not based on universally confirmed science.

“It is unfair to penalize American biofuels producers for land use decisions in other countries that they have no control over. The fact is land use decisions are enormously complicated and involve many factors that have nothing to do with renewable fuels, including changes in currency, monetary policy, export needs, productivity gains, and weather, just to name a few,” Buis said.

Comments

EPA says the plan to increase renewable fuels will reduce dependence of foreign oil by more than 297 million barrels a year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 160 million tons a year when fully phased in by 2022.

The EPA’s 60-day open comment period on this proposal will begin upon publication in the Federal Register.

For more information visit www.epa.gov/otaq/renewablefuels/index.htm.

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

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