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Climate Bill Eviscerates Biofuels Climate and Forest Safeguards

Posted Jul. 8, 2009 / Posted by: KMcmahon

Congressional Leadership rewarded Representative Peterson for throwing a temper tantrum by eviscerating the climate and forest safeguards from the biofuels mandate in order to buy a handful of votes to pass the already flawed Climate Bill in the House.  When EPA released their analysis of the full global warming impact from biofuels, it found that today's biofuels are worse for global warming than gasoline.  Peterson, Chair of the powerful House Agriculture Committee, was outraged and threatened to hold key democratic votes from the climate bill unless the emissions from deforestation that occurs as a result of increased demand for agricutlural land for biofuels production were no longer included in the global warming accounting for biofuels.

Unfortuantely, environmental champions Chairmen Waxman and Markey caved to Peterson's threats, even though it is likely that stripping the biofuels policy of safeguards only bought a couple votes.  As a result, biofuels that produce twice as much global warming pollution than gasoline, such as palm oil biodiesel, could be used to fulfill the biofuels mandate.  And, critical global warming provisions in the biofuels mandate, such as the inclusion of emissions that occur as a result of deforestation from increased biofuel production.  Specifically the "Peterson Deal":

  • Prevents EPA from including the full global warming impact of biofuels in Renewable Fuels Standard Mandate for five years, afterwhich EPA, USDA and the National Academy of Sciences must agree about whether or not to include the potent emissions that occur as a result of induced deforestation internationally from increased biofuel production both in the US and around the world.  These emissions are known as the emissions that occur from "Indirect Land Use Change" (ILUC).  Meanwhile, for the next five years, increasingly large amounts of biofuels are mandated to be produced and blended into our fuel stream, despite the fact that they produce more global warming pollution than gasoline and diesel fuels.
  • Extends the "grandfathering" of mandated biofuels from having to achieve global warming pollution reductions to also include all biomass-based diesel products.  Currently, only conventional biofuels that were in production, or are produced from facilities that were already built or under construction, were exempted from the global warming standards.  Now, all of the mandated biodiesel is also exempt from the global warming standards.  This means that Indonesian palm oil, which produces twice as much global warming pollution as fossil diesel fuel, could be elidgable for the Renewable Fuels Standard.
  • Removes practically all protections for forests and other natural areas from the expansion of biofuel production. After already significantly weakening the forest safeguards as the bill moved through Committee, they were even further weakend to a practically pointless point.  Previously biofuels could not be sourced from any federal forest land nor could they be sourced from any land that was convered from forest or native grassland specificaly for the purpose of biofuel production. Now, instead of preventing widespread destruction of natural forests and other ecosystems, as the protections previously did, the only areas safe from biofuels production are Wilderness Areas and Old Growth Forests. 

Overall, the critical climate and land safeguards that were removed in order to buy a few votes to pass the climate bill could cause massive increases in global warming emissions as a result of deforestation and other forms of land conversion.  Already, deforstation alone accounts for 20% of global warming pollution internationally.  If we are to truely address global warming, we need to address agricutlure's impact on land and the emissions that occur as a result.  Bioenergy should not get a free pass on emission reductions

Letter Against Peterson ProposalLetter Supporting ILUCProtection from Hunger Groups

Community Factsheet: Biofuels and Land Use Change Emissions

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