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Ron Steenblik's Posts

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Top of the crops

USDA scientist: Some crop residues may be too valuable for biofuels

Converting crop residues into cellulosic ethanol sounds to many people like a good idea -- certainly better than using food crops themselves. Yet according to respected USDA soil scientist Ann Kennedy, the stems and leaves left over after crops are harvested may have more value if they are left on the ground, especially in areas receiving less than 25 inches of precipitation annually. That includes most of the United States (click on link to see map) west of the 100th meridian, which runs roughly from Bismark, S.D. through Laredo, Texas. To regular readers of Gristmill, this probably does not sound …

Read more: Food

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Corn polls

New surveys suggest changing views on biofuels

Biofuel policy has made it to the polls. Yesterday, the National Center for Public Policy Research, a nonprofit, non-partisan educational foundation based in Washington, D.C., released the results of a survey (PDF) conducted at the beginning of this month which claims to have found that most Americans -- "including those in the Farm Belt" -- want Congress to reduce or eliminate the mandated use of corn ethanol. In response to the key question, "What do you think Congress should do now?" with respect to the Renewable Fuels Standard (which last December raised the minimum volume of biofuels used in the …

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Taking the Pledge

Five nations agree to think about ending oil subsidies

The day after markets registered the highest single-day rise in crude oil prices ever, the United States and Asia's four largest economies (Japan, China, India and South Korea), meeting in Aomori, Japan in advance of the G8 Energy Ministers summit, have formed a sort of Petro-holics non-Anonymous club, calling for an end to oil subsidies in their countries. Consumer subsidies (subsidized fuel prices), that is, not producer subsidies. OK, what they actually agreed upon was "the need" to remove fuel-price subsidies. Eventually. According to a report by Agence France-Presse, the five nations announced in a joint statement: "We recognize that, …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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To those who are blasé about expanding the RFS

Once in place, the RFS will be nigh impossible to eliminate

Several posts during the past week, and countless ones elsewhere, have asked people to support the Energy Bill making its way through Congress. Some people have no problem with one of its major provisions, which calls for substantially expanding the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) -- the regulation that requires minimum amounts of ethanol, biodiesel, or other biofuels to be incorporated into the volume of transport fuels used each year. Indeed, some would even welcome the prospect. Many others do not like the idea, but seem to feel that it is a price worth paying in order to preserve solar investment …

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'Decision-makers' rank GHG abatement technologies

Guess which type of energy comes in last in a recent poll

GlobeScan, a self-styled "global public opinion and stakeholder research" organization based in Toronto, has just published the results of a survey of 1,000 climate "decision-makers and influencers" from across 105 countries, conducted in the two weeks leading up to the Bali Climate Conference (Nov. 22-Dec. 5, 2007). According to the firm's website: Unlike public opinion polls, this survey focuses on the views of professionals in position to make or influence large decisions in their organizations and society. This focus, together with the survey's large global sample and good balance of respondents across all geographies and sectors, makes this survey unique. …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Asking the wrong questions

An alternative view on biofuels, from a Briton in Sudan

I've just discovered a great blog maintained by Clive Bates, a self-described "selfless public servant, amateur chef, novice mountaineer, lawless cyclist, overweight runner and occasional optimist." He is being modest: he's the former head of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) in the UK and more recently the Head of Environmental Policy at the UK Environment Agency. Over the last two years, Bates has written extensively and persuasively on a wide range of topics, particularly on environmental and energy policies, and climate change. In his latest post, about biofuel policy, Bates states: Instead of asking how to reduce transport emissions …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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French connections

Is it something in the air?

Interesting things are happening in the francophone world. Last week I reported that the Quebec government had decided to stop supporting any new ethanol plants based on corn as a feedstock. Now the French government, perhaps flowing out of its broad social dialogue on the environment (known as "Le Grenelle français de l'environnement"), is reported to be thinking of slashing subsidies benefiting the production of ethanol in the country. Ooh la la, what in the world is going on? This news first appeared in an article published in Britain's Guardian newspaper. It has since been picked up both by Biopact …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Independent Québec

Backing away from corn ethanol

The big news north of the (U.S.) border is that Québec's government has decided that there is no future in corn ethanol. As explained in an article posted on Canada's Cyberpresse website, back in May 2005 Québec's then Minister for Agriculture, Yvon Vallières, gave a green light, "for obvious economic and ecological reasons," to the construction of the first plant to manufacture ethanol from corn kernels, in the town of Varennes. However, during an emission of the Enquête television program (click to view) on Radio-Canada last Thursday evening, Québec's Minister for Natural Resources, Claude Béchard, promised that the 120-million-litre-per year …

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A slew of new reports on biofuel subsidies

Evaluating U.S. and EU policies

The last couple of months I've been busy preparing two major reports on government support for biofuels, both for the Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). These reports follow on from our October 2006 report on support for biofuels in the United States, which we commissioned from Doug Koplow of Earth Track, and which has been cited numerous times on these pages. Last month, we issued what we call our "Synthesis Report," our overview of government support for biofuels in selected OECD countries. Coming out right on the heels of the so-called "OECD Paper" …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Deutsche steinkohle ist kaputt

Except that we still have to wait another 10 years

The German government on Wednesday cleared the way -- finally -- to phase out the mining of hard coal in Germany. As explained by this Associated Press article in the International Herald Tribune, the heavily subsidized German hard coal industry still employs about 33,000 people in eight underground mines. The plan is to phase out hard-coal mining starting in 2009, and for miners to receive compensation if they are laid off prematurely. Hard-coal mining "has no future" in Germany, declared Economy Minister Michael Glos. "A great, long era is coming to an end in a socially responsible way." For decades, …

Read more: Climate & Energy