This week, Senator John Thune (R-SD) introduced a bill to prevent attempts to use inaccurate indirect land use models to assess the environmental impacts of ethanol.
“Following California’s recent decision to use flawed models to estimate ethanol’s impact, I am concerned that the EPA could soon apply similar standards that will handicap renewable fuel relative to regular gasoline,” Thune said. “Congress has asked EPA to apply greenhouse gas emission standards that reflect ethanol’s proven environmental benefits. However, with the EPA’s current decision that is pending at the White House, I am concerned that EPA’s action could have a detrimental impact on our renewable fuel industry and efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
The EPA has not yet issued rules for the new Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which was enacted as part of the 2007 Energy Bill under the Bush Administration. Senator Thune’s office explains that the new RFS requires new corn ethanol plants and new cellulosic ethanol plants to produce a fuel that emits fewer lifecycle greenhouse gases relative to regular gasoline.
But, Congress also included a requirement to quantify emissions from indirect land use changes. “There is growing concern that EPA could unfairly interpret this provision and discredit American made ethanol with indirect land use changes that may or may not occur in other countries around the world,” Thune’s office reported.
The new bill directs the EPA to focus on direct lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, which would level the playing field between ethanol and gasoline and bring more regulatory certainty to the ethanol industry, Thune’s office said. The bill would require the agency to publicize the model for measuring lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions before taking regulatory action and also would allow ethanol producers with new production methods to apply to the EPA for a lower carbon score, which Thune’s office, suggests “would provide an incentive for ethanol companies to develop innovative ways to produce ethanol.”
The indirect land use issue is extremely complex and controversial. What I find troubling is that, at least in the California Air Resources Board deliberations and recent decision about the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, petroleum and other fuels were assumed not to cause any indirect carbon effects or “market-mediated” impacts. Don’t oil spills and subsequent environmental damage figure into the equation? What about indirect carbon effects from wars over oil in foreign countries?
Thune’s bill is important in that it calls for transparency when it comes to explaining the rationale for measuring lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. It may also show how science needs to catch up to public policy—whether it’s in California or at the federal level.
What are your thoughts on the indirect land use impacts of biofuels? Please send them this way.