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Senators rebuffed by EPA still want answers

Agriculture.com Staff 05/07/2009 @ 11:39am

In March, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin and a bipartisaon group of 11 other senators, wrote Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson asking that the EPA not use indirect land use when it calculates greenhouse gas emissions from corn-based ethanol and soy biodiesel.

Jackson didn't take their advice. This week EPA released a proposed rule that would make it difficult for new corn ethanol plants to benefit from government mandates to blend ethanol into gasoline and threatens an already stressed biodiesel industry. The EPA used the concept of indirect land use, which ties U.S. corn and soybean production for biofuels with some of the deforestation and plowing of grasslands in other nations.

Harkin told Agriculture Online Thursday that the group of 12 senators still hasn't heard back from Jackson, so they're firing off another letter to her. "We are insisting the we see what kind of science you are going to be using," Harkin said the group will ask her.

"I still think they're going to have a hard time coming up with any kind of exact science on this," Harkin said. "This is really soft science. You could move it one way or the other."

Jackson did say that the EPA welcomes a peer review process that will allow scientists and experts to critique EPA’s methods for calculating indirect land use.

Harkin hinted that if a scientific consensus can’t be reached, “then this is a policy discussion for us to make here.”

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was one of the senators who signed the March letter to Jackson. He has told Agricuture Online that he thinks it would be difficult for supports of ethanol to get legislation passed that would bar using indirect land use in EPA regulations of biofuels. But he supports a bill recently introduced by Senator John Thune (R-SD) that would prevent EPA from including indirect land use when it estimates the greenhouse gas emissions from fuels.

The EPA also drew criticism Wednesday when the House Agriculture Committee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research held a hearing on the subject.

"We are very upset with the path EPA has taken us down and sent that message back loud and clear in today's hearing," said Chairman Tim Holden (D-PA). "If we continue with these provisions in EISA (the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007), we will not only harm the biofuels industry but also shortchange a large part of the country before we even get started. We need to expand the reach of biofuels, not hamper the farmer and forest owner."

In March, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin and a bipartisaon group of 11 other senators, wrote Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson asking that the EPA not use indirect land use when it calculates greenhouse gas emissions from corn-based ethanol and soy biodiesel.

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