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Harkin: Indirect land use won't stand up to scientific scrutiny

Agriculture.com Staff 06/04/2009 @ 2:47pm

Talking to reporters Thursday, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said he doubts that the final rule from the Environmental Protection Agency on a new renewable fuel standard will have the same use of indirect land use that has made the EPA proposal controversial in the biofuels industry.

In EPA's May 5 proposal, it used the concept that increasing acreage for ethanol and biodiesel crops in the U.S. leads to deforestation and grassland destruction in other nations. Putting that concept into computer models used to estimate greenhouse gases would make biodiesel ineligible for mandates and subsidies under the 2007 energy bill, and it threatens expansion of corn-based ethanol.

Harkin said Thursday that more than 100 scientists have questioned this theory.

"I think EPA is way off the mark on this," he said.

Harkin said he doubts that the final rule will have the same concept because he doesn't think it's supported by science and he wants to see scientific proof.

"Quite frankly, I can tell you, we'll never see it," he said, because, with so many factors influencing land use in other nations, it's impossible to show that biofuel crops are responsible.

If the concept remains in EPA's final rule, "I'm relatively confident we have the votes here [in the Senate] to say no and overturn that."

Two Republican Senators have already introduced bills that would require EPA to not use indirect land use when it calculates the carbon footprint of biofuels. That requirement currently is part of the 2007 energy bill that ramps up federal mandates for biofuel use in the nation's fuel supply.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) was first to introduce a bill to remove that requirement from the energy law. Recently Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill that is similar to one introduced in the House by Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Those bills would also eliminate the indirect land use calculation.

Meanwhile, the biofuels industry remains uncertain about the ways EPA came up with its conclusions about indirect land use. On Monday, the Renewable Fuels Association asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to make public all of the assumptions plugged into computer models used by EPA.

On Tuesday, Grassley again criticized EPA’s assumptions in a speech on the floor of the Senate.

"The EPA's models conclude that international land use contributes more in greenhouse gases than the entire direct emissions of ethanol production and use -- from the growing the crop, the production of ethanol at the refinery, to the tailpipe emissions when it's burned," Grassley said. "The ripple effects are greater than the direct effects. This conclusion is ludicrous."

Iowa Governor Chet Culver said Thursday that he's also aware of how the EPA rule could affect biofuels, with the potential to shut down much of the biodiesel industry (which isn't grandfathered in under the law to protect existing plants from the new regulations).

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