Friends of the Earth Sues, Petitions EPA on Failure to Regulate Biofuels

Friends of the Earth Sues, Petitions EPA on Failure to Regulate Biofuels

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The Clean Air Task Force and Friends of the Earth filed both a lawsuit in the US Court of Appeals and a petition to EPA to reconsider elements of its recently released regulations on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 amended the RFS, increasing the biofuels mandate to 36 billion gallons to be used by 2022. Congress, recognizing that this massive increase in biofuels production could result in environmental degradation, included provisions to prevent ecosystem degradation and global warming pollution from the law. Clean Air Task Force and Friends of the Earth’s lawsuit and petitions challenge the way that EPA has decided to implement these provisions.

First, the mandate required the EPA to perform a lifecycle analysis to ensure that biofuels provided a net greenhouse gas reduction as compared to gasoline and diesel. EPA was directed to perform a full lifecycle analysis for the current production of biofuels, taking into account direct emissions as well as indirect emissions as a result of land use change. Unfortunately, the EPA’s finalized regulations for the Renewable Fuels Standard as of March 2010 did not consider the current effects of biofuels production. Instead, it used optimistically projected data to support its analysis that all biofuels, even corn ethanol, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2022, despite the fact that EPA’s analysis shows that corn ethanol currently exceeds the emissions threshold set by Congress. Instead, EPA decided to regulate emissions based on assumptions of increased yields and better use of co-products in the future.  In other words, EPA did not use current data, but instead a projected lifecycle analysis of biofuels in 2022.

Secondly, the mandate took a good step and prohibited the use of certain types of biomass from sensitive and natural ecosystems in order to fulfill the mandate. EPA, in their final rulemaking, decided to ignore ecosystem conversion occurring here in the United States. Their decision was based on the false assumption that there is no land conversion occurring because the net amount of agricultural land in the US is stagnate. This flawed assumption does not take into consideration the fact that small farms are often absorbed by urban sprawl. So, while the overall amount of land used for farming may not be increasing, this is because some farms are shrinking due to sprawl while other farms in more rural areas are expanding. Additionally, recent studies from the US Department of Agriculture show that corn ethanol production is the cause of land conversions from natural ecosystems to agricultural lands. As a result, Friends of the Earth petitioned EPA to reconsider its analysis.

FOE Release | CATF Release | Law Suit | Petition