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Will a phony carbon footprint crush the biofuels industry?

Agriculture.com Staff 04/17/2009 @ 2:41pm

Biofuel supporters are worried that the EPA is going to use convoluted logic to make ethanol and biodiesel look worse than petroleum when it updates the 2007 Energy Bill's Renewable Fuel Standard this year. The snag is a theory that every U.S. corn or soybean acre devoted to ethanol or biodiesel means an acre of tropical rainforest is being cut down somewhere to offset it and grow food. Deforestation puts greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Under the law, biofuels have to show that they reduce greenhouse gases compared to petroleum-based fuels. Biodiesel has to be 50% better than diesel fuel, says Ray Gaesser, a Corning, Iowa, farmer who is a vice president of the American Soybean Association.

The Energy Department estimates it's 78% better, Gaesser says. But EPA's interpretation of indirect land use makes it only 24%. "If biodiesel doesn’t meet the Renewable Fuel Standard, it's pretty detrimental to the expansion of biodiesel," he says. "We're not saying there shouldn't be some accounting for greenhouse gases, but it's unfair that those of us in the United States should be penalized for something that’s happening in other countries."

ASA lobbyists recently met with the staff of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and were told that it was not the intent of Congress to have soy biodiesel excluded from the RFS, which forces oil companies to use biofuels.

According to ASA spokesman Bob Callanan, "ASA continues to urge that the Proposed Rule not include premature calculations resulting from indirect land use (ILU) assumptions and factors that are significantly flawed. ASA is stressing that the Proposed Rule should lay out the factors and methodology being considered and use the public comment period to refine it. ASA is working with Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and industry partners to urge EPA to refrain from using inaccurate, incomplete and unsubstantiated indirect land use change assumptions in their proposed rule for the RFS-2."

Gaesser says that he has talked to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) about this issue. "Senator Grassley is definitely on top of the indirect land use issue, and I told him we will need his help to either get the White House and EPA to revise the rule, or else legislate a fix," Gaesser said.

Biofuels may also be threatened by the California's Air Resources Board has used indirect land use to conclude that imported gasoline is less of a threat to global warming than ethanol shipped in from the Midwest. That's why Rick Tolman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association recently called the California standard a trade barrier against interstate commerce. The California rule isn’t final, but it could be decided as early as next week.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, author Gal Luft points out that gasoline isn't put to the same test. California ignores the greenhouse gases it takes for jets, tanks and ships to protect oil coming from the Middle East.

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