First, the good news:
The United States is supporting joint efforts by the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei Darussalam to establish the “Heart of Borneo” conservation plan, an initiative intended to protect biodiversity by preserving 220,000 square kilometers of equatorial rainforest on the island of Borneo…
Now for the punch line:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced July 28 that the U.S. government would donate $100,000 to help advance the project.
I made a prediction in an earlier post that we would see more and more cheap foreign vegetable oil finding its way into our ports, nullifying one more argument supporting food-based biofuels (they will make us independent from foreign sources of oil). The largest biodiesel refinery in the country is being built not far from where I live and they will be using imported palm oil to make it. It slipped under my radar screen but you can go here to read a discussion generated when it was announced in May of this year.
Last week Malaysia and Indonesia announced that they were dedicating 40% of their palm-oil production to biodiesel refiners, causing the price of palm oil to leap 20%. Consumer awareness of the potential for environmental devastation of biofuels appears to be growing and it is having an impact. How do I know? Some biofuel refiners are starting to downplay what they use for feedstock. Also, some refiners are starting to use this growing awareness to gain competitive advantage over their rivals. This is the free market doing its thing. If consumers prefer a fuel that is homegrown or made from recycled oils, so be it. From John Cook’s Venture Blog:
Chief Executive Steven Verhey [of Central Washington Biodiesel] told me that the company plans to produce its biodiesel from locally grown crops. He also categorized large biodiesel producers that are planning to import palm oil from overseas as potentially harmful to Washington farmers and the environment. “Consumers need to be aware of where their fuel is coming from,” he said. That appears to be a swipe at Imperium Renewables, the Seattle Company led by Martin Tobias and funded by Vulcan and others. It reportedly plans to use palm oil from Malaysia and soybean oil from the Midwest at a massive plant now in development in Grays Harbor County.
Biodiesel refiners in the Midwest should have no problem marketing their product made from homegrown soy oil. The environmental downsides are easily brushed under the rug there. However, the environmental downsides are a much bigger concern for consumers in coastal liberal bubbles like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco.
I have a new prediction to make. Some biofuel refiners will become increasingly deft at dodging negative images. Here are some examples of how they may do it: They will begin to blend small amounts of waste and locally produced oil into their operations so they can say that they use a mix of waste and locally grown oil. As long as the public is not privy to the actual ratios, then most will have their guilt assuaged. The refiners will also grow increasingly cryptic as to what their feed stock is, where it comes from, and how much of it comes from where.
Why do I care? Because making biofuels from the wrong stuff can be worse for the planet’s biodiversity than using petroleum. Granted, we need to eat, but we do not need to feed the planet to our friggin’ cars. Petroleum, as sad as this may sound, can easily become the least of two evils.