Muckraker: Grist on Politics

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release new rules soon regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard established last year under the Energy Independence and Security Act. The legislation required the EPA take into account the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from the production of various biofuels, including indirect emissions from things like land use changes.

On Oct. 21, several academics and representatives from the biofuel industry sent a letter [PDF] to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson asking the agency to exclude accounting for these emissions from their rulemaking, calling the requirement “premature.”

“[T]here are no generally accepted methods for determining indirect land use change, or for that matter, any indirect (market-driven) change, and there is no way to apply even current methods in any meaningful way to the choices a farmer makes,” write the authors, which included experts from Michigan State University, Iowa State University, Auburn University, the BioEnergy Science Center, Mendel Biotechnology, and Ceres.

The authors said that it is “of particular concern” to them that “the EPA appears to be relying heavily” on the February 2008 report that found that both corn- and switch-grass ethanol actually have higher net greenhouse gas emissions that conventional fuel sources. “It would be very unfortunate if a rush to judgment by the EPA would cast unwarranted doubt on the value of these low-carbon, 2nd generation biofuels,” they wrote.

Several environmental groups also sent a letter [PDF] to Johnson urging him to uphold the requirements established by Congress. “[I]t would be both unlawful and irresponsible for EPA to delay evaluation of emissions from land use changes,” wrote representatives from the Clean Air Task Force, the Environmental Working Group, and Friends of the Earth.

“There is nothing ‘premature’ about Congress’s insistence that federally mandated, taxpayer-subsidized biofuels are environmentally beneficial,” they wrote. “The RFS has propped up the biofuel industry for three decades, on the untested assumption that biofuels are good for consumers and the environment. During that time, its proponents — including the authors of the October 21 letter — have failed to demonstrate that biofuels provide any such benefits. “

“Judging from the October 21 letter and from supportive statements made in the press, biofuel developers continue to be less interested in examining the fuels’ net social and environmental impacts than they are in maintaining federal support in the form of mandates and tax breaks,” the letter concludes.

The EPA has yet to release the new rules, but they’re expected any day now.