Archive for February 4th, 2010
New Renewable Fuel Standard, Which Sets First Heat Trapping Emissions Requirements for Biofuels, Gets Favorable Review From UCS
EPA Analysis Demonstrated That Without Additional Support, Cleanest Biofuels Will Fail to Meet Targets
By Union of Concerned Scientists
February 3, 2010
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new rules for the Renewable Fuel Standard, the nation’s primary biofuels program, got a favorable review from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The science group praised the agency for a transparent process that accurately accounted for biofuels’ lifecycle heat-trapping emissions by including so-called “indirect-land-use emissions.” The new rules reflect the fact that advanced and cellulosic biofuels deliver substantially greater pollution reductions than today’s biofuels, such as corn ethanol.
“We now have a yardstick to measure the global warming pollution from different biofuels,” said Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist in UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program. “EPA should be congratulated for having an open process on this rule that involved scientists, farmers and the ethanol industry.”
Despite intense pressure from the corn ethanol industry to exclude emissions from indirect-land-use change, the EPA found that such emissions are a major source of heat-trapping pollution from corn ethanol and other food-based biofuels. This finding affirms the view of 200 scientists and economists with relevant expertise who sent a letter to the EPA in September 2009 arguing that “grappling with the technical uncertainty and developing a regulation based on the best available science is preferable to ignoring a major source of emissions.” The EPA also issued an analysis examining the scientific uncertainty involved in calculating emissions from indirect-land-use change and plans to ask the National Academy of Sciences to look at the issue.
Indirect-land-use-change emissions also have been the focus of recent analysis by the California Air Resources Board, as well as peer-review scientific articles, which concluded that using food crops to produce fuel increases worldwide demand for those crops, prompting farmers to clear previously untouched land to grow new crops. Clearing land, especially tropical forests, releases massive amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.
The Renewable Fuel Standard, enacted in 2005, requires fuel suppliers to blend a higher percentage of renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, into motor vehicle fuels over time. In 2007, Congress passed the “Energy Independence and Security Act,” which expanded the standard’s overall volume requirement from 7.5 million gallons by 2012 to 36 billion gallons by 2022, and significantly increased the requirement for low-carbon cellulosic biofuels. It also required the EPA to establish independent volume mandates for different fuel categories. Each category was to be defined by its lifecycle heat-trapping emissions compared with conventional gasoline. The categories include: renewable fuel (20 percent less emissions than gasoline), biomass-based diesel (50 percent less), advanced biofuels (50 percent less), and cellulosic biofuels (60 percent less).
Corn ethanol facilities that were operating or under construction in 2007 are exempt from meeting the emissions-reduction requirements. The EPA projects that new corn ethanol facilities coming on line in 2022 could meet the 20 percent heat-trapping emissions reduction threshold for renewable fuels. However, this analysis is based on projected increases in crop yields and improvements in ethanol production technology and is not an analysis of the performance of today’s corn ethanol facilities.
UCS experts say cellulosic ethanol, derived from grass, wood chips and other waste material, is a better option. According to EPA analysis, ethanol made from corn residue, or stalks and cobs, could reduce emissions by more than 90 percent compared with gasoline, in part because it would not necessarily displace land used to grow food crops and therefore would not trigger significant indirect land use emissions.
Cellulosic fuel production, however, has fallen short of the EPA target. The 2007 energy law required suppliers to produce 100 million gallons of cellulosic fuel in 2010. But current cellulosic ethanol production stands at only 6.5 million gallons. Therefore, the EPA announced today that it is waiving 93.5 million gallons of the 100 million gallon requirement.
“Achieving energy security and tackling climate change will require a big contribution from cellulosic fuels,” said Martin. “Just setting a goal isn’t good enough in this economy. We need investment policies that help this industry get off the ground.”
According to UCS, the most important thing federal legislators could do to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard’s goals would be to support investment in building commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel facilities across the country. An investment in this essential clean energy technology would jumpstart rural economies and expand the economic benefits of biofuels production.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
EPA ruling boosts ethanol after fierce lobbying effort for corn-based fuels
By Ben Geman
February 3, 2010
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) handed a victory to ethanol producers Wednesday by issuing final regulations that conclude corn-based fuels will meet greenhouse gas standards imposed under a 2007 energy law.
The release of the final regulations follows a fierce campaign by ethanol companies that alleged 2009 draft rules unfairly found that large volumes of ethanol production would not meet targets in the statute for reducing greenhouse gases.
The new rules state that corn-based ethanol will meet a requirement of the 2007 law that they must emit at least 20 percent less in “lifecycle” greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.
The statute expanded the national biofuels use mandate to reach 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. If the EPA had ruled that corn-based fuels did not meet their emissions target, the fuels could have been frozen out of the market.
The issue has been vital to the ethanol lobby, which feared that an adverse finding could stymie investment and tarnish the fuel’s image.
However, the nation’s current ethanol production — about 12 billion gallons annually — was exempted from the law’s emissions mandate.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Monday denied the agency had bent to pressure, instead arguing that EPA employed better modeling when crafting the final regulations.
“We have followed the science,” she told reporters on a conference call. “Our models have become more sophisticated. We have accrued better data.”
The new rules, which implement the expanded fuels mandate, are not a complete victory for ethanol lobbyists, who along with several farm-state lawmakers object to the way EPA measures the carbon footprint of biofuels.
Specifically, they’re upset that EPA didn’t give up on weighing “international indirect land use changes” as part of emissions calculations. The phrase refers to emissions from clearing grasslands and forests in other countries for croplands, in order to compensate for increasing use of U.S. corn and soybeans for making fuels.
“We will always be concerned about indirect land use,” said Gen. Wesley Clark, a former presidential candidate who now leads the ethanol industry trade group Growth Energy.
“Why should American farmers be penalized for the problems in the Brazilian rainforest? That’s the Brazilian government’s issue and maybe the United Nations’,” he said in an interview before EPA’s rules were released. “It is so farfetched. I know it comes out of an academic model, but it is just an academic model, and the model is not even based on current facts.”
The industry alleges the science behind the land-use emissions measurements is immature and inaccurate, while environmentalists say such calculations are vital to ensuring federal support for ethanol doesn’t actually worsen climate change.
Nathanael Greene of the Natural Resources Defense Council also praised the measure because EPA did not back away from considering the land-use emissions, even though it came up with numbers friendlier to the industry with the final rule.
“We finally have a tool that we can use to hold the industry accountable, to reward the people that are doing a better job and keep the folks that are doing a really bad job out,” said Greene, the group’s director of renewable energy policy.
EPA said several factors went into the revised emissions calculations. For instance, the agency said that better satellite data allowed more precise assessments of the types of land converted internationally.
The battle over the land use emissions is hardly over. Two senior House Democrats — Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (Mo.) — introduced a bill this week that would block EPA from considering the land-use changes.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )