Why are farm-state pols howling against recently proposed EPA rules on biofuel and greenhouse gas emissions?
As I reported last week — echoed by Time’s Michael Grunwald — the agency made extremely generous assumptions regarding the GHG footprint of crop-based fuel. What’s more, the proposed rules actually enshrine the titanic biofuel mandates farm-state pols worked into the 2007 Energy Act. Sure, corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel emerge as net GHG emitters under the proposed EPA rules; but those “first-generation” fuels are grandfathered in under the Act. And cellulosic ethanol gets a big thumbs up (even though it remains, as ever, five years away from commercial viability). In other words, the proposed rules have no direct effect on the biofuel industry.
So why don’t these guys shut up? Why for example, is Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) trading pointed letters with the EPA and denouncing the agency’s use of science? Why did House ag committee chair Collin Peterson (D.-Minn.) just introduce legislation that would prevent the EPA from applying life-cycle GHG analysis to biofuels? Why go to such lengths to reverse rules that don’t harm the industry you’re trying to protect?
First, he vented a bit. “I’ve had it,” he said with an air of angry resignation. “You [the EPA] are going to kill off the biofuel industry before it gets started.” At points, he aired Nixonian suspicions of ethanol critics’ motivations: “I don’t trust anybody anymore! … Why are we being picked on? Because some people don’t like corn ethanol.”
Eventually, he got to the point: “What I’m upset about is not so much what’s going on today, but the interaction of this [i.e., the GHG footprint of biofuel] with the climate change bill.” He added that discussion of the GHG performance of biofuels should essentially be taboo: “You’re putting us in a position to talk about something that we shouldn’t be even be talking about.”
The chairman went on to declare that because of the proposed EPA rules around biofuel, he officially opposes the Waxman-Markey climate bill. “I will not support any kind of climate change bill, even if you fix this,” (i.e., the EPA take on ethanol’s GHG footprint). He softened his stance slightly a few seconds later, allowing that he might consider supporting Waxman-Markey if it contained explicit language guaranteeing that the EPA would not meddle in biofuel policy.
Mind you, the Waxman-Markey language under consideration already excludes agriculture’s considerable GHG emissions from penalty under any cap-and-trade scheme. The big goal of agribiz lobbying around Waxman-Markey is to take that indulgent treatment once step further: ignore our emissions, but give us credit for sequestering carbon. (No one’s ever demonstrated for me precisely how industrial ag sequesters carbon.)
I think the deal is this: Peterson is worried that if a cap-and-trade scheme comes into place, and the EPA is on record calculating that corn ethanol is a net emitter of greenhouse gas, then down the road the industry could be penalized or even shut down. That’s why farm-state pols are shrieking like banshees about proposed EPA rules that don’t have any immediate effect on the industry they’ve spent years supporting.
One more thing: This fight is absolutely about keeping the government goodies coming to com ethanol. Just last year, Peterson himself bluntly expressed doubt about whether cellulosic “would ever get off the ground,” and declared it at least 10 years away from viability. No one can deny that Peterson is a good soldier for agribiz interests, from whom he soaks up prodigious amounts of campaign cash.