EPA Releases Draft Biofuels Rules: Today's Biofuels Worse than Gasoline

EPA Releases Draft Biofuels Rules: Today’s Biofuels Worse than Gasoline

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Early May, EPA released draft rules for the Renewable Fuels Standard.  In this massive, 1000 page document, is EPA’s assessment of the global warming impact of biofuels.  The Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates the production of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by the year 2022, includes in it a few critical environmental protections, such as a required reduction of life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels.  Included in this life cycle emission accounting are the emissions from indirect land use change.

Indirect land use change emissions result from increased agricultural land being converted to biofuels production.  When more land is diverted to produce biofuels, somewhere else in the world land is converted to produce the food, feed or fiber crops that the biofuels displaced.  The deforestation and destruction of grasslands and wetlands that occurs causes immense greenhouse gas pollution.  Our friends at Clean Air Task Force have a good graphic explaining this here.

The biofuels and agribusiness industry lobbied EPA intensely, asking that EPA ignore the law and not include these potent emissions in the life cycle calculations.  But, thankfully, EPA did not cave to industry demands and included the emissions from indirect land use change in their analysis. 

The resulting figures were astonishing.  Corn ethanol increases global warming pollution over gasoline for 33 years before emission reductions occur.  Soybean biodiesel is also worse for global warming than diesel fuel.  You would think that this analysis would put the nail in the coffin for biofuels.  But, of course that is not the end of the story. 

EPA also included in the analysis a gimmick, which would allow biofuels that are bad for the climate to squeak through the reduction requirements.  Essentially, what EPA does is allow for the emissions to be counted for over a 100 year time period. 

Land use change emissions include both the carbon emission pulse associated with the original destruction of a natural ecosystem, as well as reduction of emissions gained over time.  The length of time that emissions re-gained are accounted for greatly influences the total emissions associated with land use change. A shorter time frame will show greater net emissions, where as a longer time frame will show less net emissions.  However, because the threshold for overall economy wide emission reductions must occur now in order to avoid cataclysmic impacts from climate change.

Despite this loophole, biofuel proponents were pretty upset with the analysis.  Click here our press release reacting to Rep. Peterson’s anger at the EPA for including emissions from indirect land use change.

Press Release