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Published February 08, 2010, 04:00 AM

New biofuels strategy unveiled

WASHINGTON — In what appears to be a boost for the renewable fuels industry and the campaign for green jobs, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson Feb. 3 finalized the rule for the National Renewable Fuel Standard program, saying that the agency has concluded corn-based ethanol is a low-carbon fuel that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent compared with the gasoline it will displace.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — In what appears to be a boost for the renewable fuels industry and the campaign for green jobs, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson Feb. 3 finalized the rule for the National Renewable Fuel Standard program, saying that the agency has concluded corn-based ethanol is a low-carbon fuel that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent compared with the gasoline it will displace.

Renewable fuels have to reduce emissions by 20 percent to meet EPA’s standards.

Some environmentalists had charged that corn-based ethanol uses more energy than it produces and would cause environmental harm through the shift of land in other countries to food and feed production.

A shift

But Jackson, in a telephone news conference with other Cabinet officers from the White House, said that new research indicated higher levels of productivity and crop yields. She said ethanol would shift land use in some other countries, but that after the agency had increased the number of countries in the indirect land use analysis from 40 to 160, the new study had shown that the “the impacts of indirect land use were different and lesser than what we thought.”

Jackson warned, however, that corn-based ethanol will qualify as an advanced biofuel only if the industry is “smart” and produces ethanol efficiently with the use of natural gas. But she said the rule should give investors confidence in both corn-based ethanol and soy-based diesel.

The rule fulfilled a 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act requirement that EPA produce a plan to bring the level of renewable fuels to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The administration also said that EPA and the Agriculture, Energy and Interior departments would cooperate to increase production of biodiesel many other renewable fuels to meet the goal.

Indirect land use

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson said he was pleased by the decisions that ethanol and biodiesel will qualify fuels that reduce greenhouse gases. But he added, “To think that we can credibly measure the impact of international indirect land use is completely unrealistic.”

The House-passed climate change bill would prevent EPA from using the indirect land use analysis and Peterson noted that he, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., have introduced a separate bill to achieve the same objective.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the announcement “keeps the nation on its trajectory of strongly expanding production and use of bio-fuels, including biodiesel, and gives the biofuel industry the assurance that the nation does support their efforts.”

Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Thune of South Dakota and Mike Johanns of Nebraska in a joint release criticized EPA for including the direct land use analysis.

Farm group and the renewable fuel industry praised the classifications of corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel, but also were critical about the inclusion of the indirect land use analysis.

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group, noted that the decision to grant corn-based ethanol low-carbon fuel status would create a market for corn-based ethanol beyond the 15 billion gallons reserved for it under the energy bill. But Buis said the inclusion of the indirect land use analysis lowered corn-based ethanol’s greenhouse gas reduction level from 60 percent to 21 percent. EPA gives companies that blend the fuel a bigger credit for an advanced biofuel, which could put corn-based ethanol at a disadvantage in the long run, Buis said.

Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President Craig Cox, a critic of corn-based ethanol, said, “Unfortunately, the RFS rule takes no action to limit the cynical and politically driven exemptions in the 2007 energy bill for corn-ethanol plants from meeting any greenhouse gas reduction standards, let alone the other economic, environmental, or social considerations recommended by the working group. Further, the 2007 law and the new EPA rule in effect ensure a 12 billion-gallon flood of corn-ethanol in 2010 in return for a weak trickle of 100 million gallons of advanced cellulosic ethanol in 2010.”

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