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EPA agrees to take a closer look at indirect land use flaws

Agriculture.com Staff 09/24/2009 @ 10:20am

A group of Midwestern Senators upset about EPA's use of indirect land use to calculate the carbon footprint of biofuels has dropped an amendment aimed at restricting EPA by cutting off funding.

The group's leader, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Thursday that a letter from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that he received Wednesday suggests the amendment might not have been necessary. And, he said, he wasn't certain that he had the votes to get it passed in the Senate.

"I think our amendment got EPA's attention," Harkin said.

"The good news is that she has agreed to quantify the uncertainty" in using indirect land use, Harkin said.

The ethanol industry and other business associated with corn production, including seed companies Monsanto and DuPont, have expressed misgiving about EPA's first draft of regulations that will put higher mandates for biofuels use into effect. The mandates are part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).

In its first draft of rules for the energy bill, released last May, the EPA used computer models that included estimates of tropical rainforest and savannah loss associated with increased crop production in the U.S. Critics have shown that there hasn't been any correlation between rainforest destruction in Brazil and the recent increase in U.S. biofuels production so far.

If the rule isn't changed from its first draft, it's likely to make ethanol from new plants and much of soybean biodiesel production ineligible for mandates.

In her letter to Harkin, Jackson said that a panel of experts advising EPA on the rule, as well as some public comments sent to EPA "indicate that it is important to take into account indirect emissions from biofuels when looking at the lifecycle emissions as required by EISA."

"However, it is also clear that there are significant uncertainties associated with these estimates and in paricular, with the estimate of indirect land use change," Jackson wrote to Harkin.

She said EPA is working closely with USDA and other experts to "quantify the impact of the uncertainty on the lifecycle emissions."

When asked if measuring the uncertainty would make it easier for biofuels to qualify for the energy bill's mandates, Harkin said "It should."

The amendment introduced earlier this week by Harkin had bipartisan support, from Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Republicans Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Thune of South Dakota, Kit Bond of Missouri and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

A group of Midwestern Senators upset about EPA's use of indirect land use to calculate the carbon footprint of biofuels has dropped an amendment aimed at restricting EPA by cutting off funding.

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