Climate & Energy Blog

EPA gets it right: Palm Oil is not "renewable"

Posted Jan. 26, 2012 / Posted by: Michal Rosenoer

On January 27, the EPA announced it’s determination that diesel produced from palm oil releases too many greenhouse gas emissions to qualify as a renewable fuel.  Friends of the Earth applauds the EPA for recognizing the massive amounts of carbon emissions released from the production of palm oil, which has already led to the deforestation of 6.5 million hectares in Malaysia and Indonesia alone. A fuel that relies on deforestation for production is not a sustainable fuel at all. Friends of the Earth is glad the EPA recognized that indirect land use change – the conversion of land from forests, grasslands, or agriculture for other uses, like growing biofuel feedstocks – is a polluting and dirty process that needs to be accounted for when considering the impacts of biofuels.

However, the EPA hasn’t always been right. The EPA has already allowed corn ethanol to qualify as a renewable fuel, even though the EPA’s own data shows that corn ethanol releases almost 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. Likewise, the EPA allowed sugar ethanol and soy biodiesel to qualify as renewable biofuels even though, like corn ethanol, the use of food to create these fuels causes food shortages and drives up food prices and hunger around the world. Moreover, the EPA also recently allowed biofuels made from napier grass and energy cane to qualify as renewable fuels, even though these grasses are extremely invasive and could wreak havoc on local forests, prairies, and ecosystems around the country.

These mistakes stem from the fact that the EPA only considers greenhouse gas emissions when deciding whether or not a biofuel should be deemed “renewable.” In the case of corn ethanol, the EPA even ignored its own data and qualified the fuel as "renewable" despite of it's high level of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s important that the EPA not only consider carbon pollution, but also pollution to our land, water, soil, and air, when judging biofuels. Likewise, the EPA shouldn't consider a biofuel “renewable” if it competes with the food market. We should never subsidize or use a fuel that requires taking food out of our children’s mouths to put it in our gas tanks.

So, the EPA has made the wrong choice a bunch of times, but with palm oil, they got it right. Palm oil production causes massive amounts of deforestation, harms biodiversity, and leads to increased climate change. We are glad the EPA declared the fuel non-renewable and hope they consider the importance of preserving our forests, natural resources, and food security as they examine more biofuels in the future.

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