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EPA Releases Final Biofuels Mandate Rules (RFS2)

Posted Feb. 25, 2010 / Posted by: KTrout

In early February 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final rules on the Renewable Fuels Standard. Friends of the Earth and allied groups had pushed the EPA to account for the indirect greenhouse gas emissions that biofuels production causes when calculating the global warming impact of biofuels. These emissions occur as forests and other types of land are converted into use for food production to make up for the increasing land area used to raise crops for fuel. Happily, despite pressure from the biofuels industry, EPA abided by law and accounted for these emissions in their final tally. 

However, contrary to previous scientific analysis, EPA found that corn ethanol produced at facilities that are not coal-powered have a net benefit in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as compared to gasoline, even when considering emissions from indirect land use changes. This finding represents a significant shift from EPA’s draft analysis that was released last spring and could encourage the production of more corn ethanol.

There are a few reasons for this shift. EPA’s final analysis projects emissions from biofuels in 2022, not today. This means that EPA is giving the corn ethanol industry the benefit of the doubt, expecting that it will produce corn ethanol more efficiently by 2022. EPA is also using different data suggesting that corn yields will increase greatly over the next several years. These types of assumptions are highly speculative. EPA should base its analysis on the scientific facts about the impacts of biofuels today, not on speculation about what is possible 12 years from now.  

Amazingly, the changes in data awarded corn ethanol from non-coal powered plants a greater than 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to gasoline. And soybean biodiesel, which had previously not made the cut for the “advanced” pool of biofuels in the draft analysis, now just meets the required standard of delivering a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Friends of the Earth looks forward to digging further into the data in order to determine the basis for these sudden shifts to pro-corn and pro-soy outcomes.

Another important component of the rule was its reduction in the mandate for production of cellulosic biofuels due to insufficient supply. In other words, despite claims that federal support for corn ethanol is merely building a “bridge” to better biofuels, more environmentally friendly alternatives are still far from ready to fill corn ethanol's place in the mandated supply of biofuels.

The Renewable Fuels Standard mandate for biofuels production clearly does nothing to curb the growth of unsustainable biofuels or drive the production of better biofuels. The greenhouse gas standards are not driving the production of better corn ethanol or other so-called “advanced” biofuels because they have been watered down with subjective data. As long as this is the case, the Renewable Fuels Standard will continue to be a boon to the corn ethanol industry, rather than a positive trigger for the production of clean, renewable energy.

Press release

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