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The secret, dirty cost of Obama’s green power push

Monday – 11/4/2013

DINA CAPPIELLO
Associated Press

CORYDON, Iowa (AP) — The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply.

Even the cemetery that disappeared like an apparition into a cornfield.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

With the Iowa political caucuses on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming. And when President George W. Bush signed a law that year requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year, Bush predicted it would make the country “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.

Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south central Iowa.

The hilly, once-grassy landscape is made up of fragile soil that, unlike the earth in the rest of the state, is poorly suited for corn. Nevertheless, it has yielded to America’s demand for it.

“They’re raping the land,” said Bill Alley, a member of the board of supervisors in Wayne County, which now bears little resemblance to the rolling cow pastures shown in postcards sold at a Corydon pharmacy.

All energy comes at a cost. The environmental consequences of drilling for oil and natural gas are well documented and severe. But in the president’s push to reduce greenhouse gases and curtail global warming, his administration has allowed so-called green energy to do not-so-green things.

In some cases, such as its decision to allow wind farms to kill eagles, the administration accepts environmental costs because they pale in comparison to the havoc it believes global warming could ultimately cause.

Ethanol is different.

The government’s predictions of the benefits have proven so inaccurate that independent scientists question whether it will ever achieve its central environmental goal: reducing greenhouse gases. That makes the hidden costs even more significant.

“This is an ecological disaster,” said Craig Cox with the Environmental Working Group, a natural ally of the president that, like others, now finds itself at odds with the White House.

But it’s a cost the administration is willing to accept. It believes supporting corn ethanol is the best way to encourage the development of biofuels that will someday be cleaner and greener than today’s. Pulling the plug on corn ethanol, officials fear, might mean killing any hope of these next-generation fuels.

“That is what you give up if you don’t recognize that renewable fuels have some place here,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a recent interview with AP. “All renewable fuels are not corn ethanol.”

Still, corn supplies the overwhelming majority of ethanol in the United States, and the administration is loath to discuss the environmental consequences.

“It just caught us completely off guard,” said Doug Davenport, a Department of Agriculture official who encourages southern Iowa farmers to use conservation practices on their land. Despite those efforts, Davenport said he was surprised at how much fragile, erodible land was turned into corn fields.

Shortly after Davenport spoke to The Associated Press, he got an email ordering him to stop talking.

“We just want to have a consistent message on the topic,” an Agriculture Department spokesman in Iowa said.

That consistent message was laid out by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who spoke to ethanol lobbyists on Capitol Hill recently and said ethanol was good for business.

“We are committed to this industry because we understand its benefits,” he said. “We understand it’s about farm income. It’s about stabilizing and maintaining farm income which is at record levels.”

The numbers behind the ethanol mandate have become so unworkable that, for the first time, the EPA is soon expected to reduce the amount of ethanol required to be added to the gasoline supply. An unusual coalition of big oil companies, environmental groups and food companies is pushing the government to go even further and reconsider the entire ethanol program.

To understand how America got to an environmental policy with such harmful environmental consequences, it’s helpful to start in a field in Iowa.

___

Leroy Perkins, a white-haired, 66-year-old farmer in denim overalls, stands surrounded by waist-high grass and clover. He owns 91 acres like this, all hilly and erodible, that he set aside for conservation years ago.

Soon, he will have a decision to make: keep the land as it is or, like many of his neighbors, plow it down and plant corn or soybeans, the major sources of biofuel in the United States.

“I’d like to keep it in,” he said. “This is what southern Iowa’s for: raising grass.”

For decades, the government’s Conservation Reserve Program has paid farmers to stop farming environmentally sensitive land. Grassy fields naturally convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which helps combat global warming. Plus, their deep root systems prevent topsoil from washing away.

For Perkins and his farmer neighbors in Wayne County, keeping farmland in conservation wasn’t just good stewardship. It made financial sense.

A decade ago, Washington paid them about $70 an acre each year to leave their farmland idle. With corn selling for about $2 per bushel (56 pounds) back then, farming the hilly, inferior soil was bad business.

Many opted into the conservation program. Others kept their grasslands for cow pastures.

Lately, though, the math has changed.

“I’m coming to the point where financially, it’s not feasible,” Perkins said.

The change began in 2007, when Congress passed a law requiring oil companies to blend billions of gallons of ethanol into gasoline.

Oil prices were high. Oil imports were rising quickly. The legislation had the strong backing of the presidential candidate who was the junior senator from neighboring Illinois, the nation’s second-largest corn producer.

“If we’re going to get serious about investing in our energy future, we must give our family farmers and local ethanol producers a fair shot at success,” Obama said then.

The Democratic primary field was crowded, and if he didn’t win the Iowa caucuses the road to the nomination would be difficult. His strong support for ethanol set him apart.

“Any time we could talk about support for ethanol, we did,” said Mitch Stewart, the battleground states director for Obama’s 2008 campaign. “It’s how we would lead a lot of discussions.”

President Bush signed the bill that December.

It would fall on the next president to figure out how to make it work.

___

President Obama’s team at the EPA was sour on the ethanol mandate from the start.

As a way to reduce global warming, they knew corn ethanol was a dubious proposition. Corn demands fertilizer, which is made using natural gas. What’s worse, ethanol factories typically burn coal or gas, both of which release carbon dioxide.

Then there was the land conversion, the most controversial and difficult-to-predict outcome.

Digging up grassland releases greenhouse gases, so environmentalists are skeptical of any program that encourages planting more corn.

“I don’t remember anybody having great passion for this,” said Bob Sussman, who served on Obama’s transition team and recently retired as EPA’s senior policy counsel. “I don’t have a lot of personal enthusiasm for the program.”

At the White House and the Department of Agriculture, though, there was plenty of enthusiasm.

One of Obama’s senior advisers, Pete Rouse, had worked on ethanol issues as chief of staff to Sen. Tom Daschle of Iowa, a major ethanol booster who now sits on the board of Growth Energy, the ethanol trade group.

Another adviser at the time, Heather Zichal, grew up in northeast Iowa — as a child, she was crowned “sweet corn princess” — and was one of the Obama campaign’s leading voices on ethanol in her home state.

The administration had no greater corn ethanol advocate than Vilsack, the former Iowa governor.

“Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields here at home,” Obama said in 2008. “That is the kind of leader I want in my Cabinet.”

Writing the regulations to implement the ethanol mandate was among the administration’s first major environmental undertakings. Industry and environmental groups watched closely.

The EPA’s experts determined that the mandate would increase demand for corn and encourage farmers to plow more land. Considering those factors, they said, corn ethanol was only slightly better than gasoline when it came to carbon dioxide emissions.

Sixteen percent better, to be exact. And not in the short term. Only by 2022.

By law, though, biofuels were supposed to be at least 20 percent greener than gasoline.

From a legal standpoint, the results didn’t matter. Congress exempted existing coal- and gas-burning ethanol plants from meeting this standard.

But as a policy and public relations issue, it was a real problem. The biofuel-friendly Obama administration was undermining the industry’s major selling point: that it was much greener than gasoline.

So the ethanol industry was livid. Lobbyists flooded the EPA with criticism, challenging the government’s methods and conclusions.

The EPA’s conclusion was based on a model. Plug in some assumed figures — the price of corn, the number of acres planted, how much corn would grow per acre — and the model would spit out a number.

To get past 20 percent, the EPA needed to change its assumptions.

The most important of those assumptions was called the yield, a measure of how much corn could be produced on an acre of land. The higher the yield, the easier it would be for farmers to meet the growing demand without plowing new farmland, which counted against ethanol in the greenhouse gas equation.

Corn yields have inched steadily upward over the years as farms have become more efficient. The government’s first ethanol model assumed that trend would continue, rising from 150 bushels per acre to about 180 by the year 2022.

Agriculture companies like Monsanto Co. and DuPont Pioneer, which stood to make millions off an ethanol boom, told the government those numbers were too low.

They predicted that genetically modified seeds — which they produce — would send yields skyrocketing. With higher yields, farmers could produce more corn on less land, reducing the environmental effects.

Documents show the White House budget office also suggested the EPA raise its yield assumptions.

When the final rule came out, the EPA and Agriculture officials added a new “high yield case scenario” that assumed 230 bushels per acre.

The flaw in those assumptions, independent scientists knew, was that a big increase in corn prices would encourage people to farm in less hospitable areas like Wayne County, which could never produce such large yields.

But the EPA’s model assumed only a tiny increase in corn prices.

“You adjust a few numbers to get it where you want it, and then you call it good,” said Adam Liska, assistant professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska. He supports ethanol, even with its environmental trade-offs.

When the Obama administration finalized its first major green-energy policy, corn ethanol barely crossed the key threshold. The final score: 21 percent.

“If you corrected any of a number of things, it would be on the other side of 20 percent,” said Richard Plevin of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Is it a coincidence this is what happened? It certainly makes me wonder.”

It didn’t take long for reality to prove the Obama administration’s predictions wrong.

The regulations took effect in July 2010. The following month, corn prices already had surpassed the EPA’s long-term estimate of $3.22 a bushel. That September, corn passed $4, on its way to about $7, where it has been most of this year.

Yields, meanwhile, have held fairly steady.

But the ethanol boom was underway.

___

It’s impossible to precisely calculate how much ethanol is responsible for the spike in corn prices and how much those prices led to the land changes in the Midwest.

Supporters of corn ethanol say extreme weather — dry one year, very wet the next — hurt farmers and raised prices.

But diminishing supply wasn’t the only factor. More corn than ever was being distilled into ethanol.

Historically, the overwhelmingly majority of corn in the United States has been turned into livestock feed. But in 2010, for the first time, fuel was the No. 1 use for corn in America. That’s been true every year since.

Forty-four percent last year’s corn crop was used for fuel, about twice the rate in 2006, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The more corn that goes to ethanol, the more that needs to be planted to meet other demands.

Scientists predicted that a major ethanol push would raise prices and, in turn, encourage farmers like Leroy Perkins to plow into conservation land. But the government insisted otherwise.

In 2008, the journal Science published a study with a dire conclusion: Plowing over conservation land releases so much greenhouse gas that it takes 48 years before new plants can break even and start reducing carbon dioxide.

For an ethanol policy to work, the study said, farmers could not plow into conservation land.

The EPA, in a report to Congress on the environmental effects of ethanol, said it was “uncertain” whether farmers would plant on farmland that had been set aside for conservation.

The Department of Energy was more certain. Most conservation land, the government said in its response to the study, “is unsuitable for use for annual row crop production.”

America could meet its ethanol demand without losing a single acre of conservation land, Energy officials said.

They would soon be proven wrong.

Before the government ethanol mandate, the Conservation Reserve Program grew every year for nearly a decade. Almost overnight, farmers began leaving the program, which simultaneously fell victim to budget cuts that reduced the amount of farmland that could be set aside for conservation.

In the first year after the ethanol mandate, more than 2 million acres disappeared.

Since Obama took office, 5 million more acres have vanished.

Agriculture officials acknowledge that conservation land has been lost, but they say the trend is reversing. When the 2013 data comes out, they say it will show that as corn prices stabilized, farmers once again began setting aside land for conservation.

___

Losing conservation land was bad. But something even worse was happening.

Farmers broke ground on virgin land, the untouched terrain that represents, from an environmental standpoint, the country’s most important asset.

The farm industry assured the government that wouldn’t happen. And it would have been an easy thing for Washington to check.

But rather than insisting that farmers report whenever they plow into virgin land, the government decided on a much murkier oversight method: Washington instead monitors the total number of acres of cropland nationwide. Local trends wash away when viewed at such a distance.

“They could not have designed a better approach to not detect land conversion,” said Ben Larson, an agricultural expert for the National Wildlife Federation.

Look closely at the corn boom in the northern Great Plains, however, and it’s clear. Farmers are converting untouched prairie into farmland.

The Department of Agriculture began keeping figures on virgin land only in 2012 and determined that about 38,000 acres vanished that year.

But using government satellite data — the best tool available — the AP identified a conservative estimate of 1.2 million acres of virgin land in Nebraska and the Dakotas alone that have been converted to fields of corn and soybeans since 2006, the last year before the ethanol mandate was passed.

“The last five years, we’ve become financially solvent,” said Robert Malsam, a farmer in Edmunds County, S.D., who like others in the central and eastern Dakotas has plowed into wild grassland to expand his corn crop.

The price of corn is reshaping the land across the Midwest. In Wayne County, Iowa, for example, only the dead can stop the corn.

A gravel road once cut through a grassy field leading to a hilltop cemetery. But about two years ago, the landowners plowed over the road. Now, visiting gravesites means walking a narrow path through the corn.

People have complained. It’s too narrow for a hearse, too rutted for a wheelchair, too steep for the elderly. But it’s legal, said Bill Alley from the board of supervisors.

“This is what the price of corn does,” he said. “This is what happens, right here.”

___

When Congress passed the ethanol mandate, it required the EPA to thoroughly study the effects on water and air pollution. In his recent speech to ethanol lobbyists, Vilsack was unequivocal about those effects:

“There is no question air quality, water quality is benefiting from this industry,” he said.

But the administration never actually conducted the required air and water studies to determine whether that’s true.

In an interview with the AP after his speech, Vilsack said he didn’t mean that ethanol production was good for the air and water. He simply meant that gasoline mixed with ethanol is cleaner than gasoline alone.

In the Midwest, meanwhile, scientists and conservationists are sounding alarms.

Nitrogen fertilizer, when it seeps into the water, is toxic. Children are especially susceptible to nitrate poisoning, which causes “blue baby” syndrome and can be deadly.

Between 2005 and 2010, corn farmers increased their use of nitrogen fertilizer by more than one billion pounds. More recent data isn’t available from the Agriculture Department, but because of the huge increase in corn planting, even conservative projections by the AP suggest another billion-pound fertilizer increase on corn farms since then.

Department of Agriculture officials note that the amount of fertilizer used for all crops has remained steady for a decade, suggesting the ethanol mandate hasn’t caused a fertilizer boom across the board.

But in the Midwest, corn is the dominant crop, and officials say the increase in fertilizer use — driven by the increase in corn planting — is having an effect.

The Des Moines Water Works, for instance, has faced high nitrate levels for many years in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, which supply drinking water to 500,000 people. Typically, when pollution is too high in one river, workers draw from the other.

“This year, unfortunately the nitrate levels in both rivers were so high that it created an impossibility for us,” said Bill Stowe, the water service’s general manager.

For three months this summer, workers kept huge machines running around the clock to clean the water. Officials asked customers to use less water so the utility had a chance to keep up.

Part of the problem was that last year’s dry weather meant fertilizer sat atop the soil. This spring’s rains flushed that nitrogen into the water along with the remnants of the fertilizer from the most recent crop.

At the same time the ethanol mandate has encouraged farmers to plant more corn, Stowe said, the government hasn’t done enough to limit fertilizer use or regulate the industrial drainage systems that flush nitrates and water into rivers and streams.

With the Water Works on the brink of capacity, Stowe said he’s considering suing the government to demand a solution.

In neighboring Minnesota, a government report this year found that significantly reducing the high levels of nitrates from the state’s water would require huge changes in farming practices at a cost of roughly $1 billion a year.

“We’re doing more to address water quality, but we are being overwhelmed by the increase in production pressure to plant more crops,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

The nitrates travel down rivers and into the Gulf of Mexico, where they boost the growth of enormous algae fields. When the algae die, the decomposition consumes oxygen, leaving behind a zone where aquatic life cannot survive.

This year, the dead zone covered 5,800 square miles of sea floor, about the size of Connecticut.

Larry McKinney, the executive director of the Harte Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, says the ethanol mandate worsened the dead zone.

“On the one hand, the government is mandating ethanol use,” he said, “and it is unfortunately coming at the expense of the Gulf of Mexico.”

The dead zone is one example among many of a peculiar ethanol side effect: As one government program encourages farmers to plant more corn, other programs pay millions to clean up the mess.

___

Obama administration officials know the ethanol mandate hasn’t lived up to its billing.

The next-generation biofuels that were supposed to wean the country off corn haven’t yet materialized. Every year, the EPA predicts millions of gallons of clean fuel will be made from agricultural waste. Every year, the government is wrong.

Every day without those cleaner-burning fuels, the ethanol industry stays reliant on corn and the environmental effects mount.

The EPA could revisit its model and see whether ethanol is actually as good for the environment as officials predicted. But the agency says it doesn’t have the money or the manpower.

Even under the government’s optimistic projections, the ethanol mandate wasn’t going to reduce greenhouse gas right away. And with the model so far off from reality, independent scientists say it’s hard to make an argument for ethanol as a global warming policy.

“I’d have to think really hard to come up with a scenario where it’s a net positive,” said Silvia Secchi, a Southern Illinois University agriculture economist.

She paused a few moments, then added, “I’m stumped.”

In June, when Obama gave a major policy speech on reducing greenhouse gas, he didn’t mention ethanol. Biofuels in general received a brief, passing reference.

What was once billed as an environmental boon has morphed into a government program to help rural America survive.

“I don’t know whether I can make the environmental argument, or the economic argument,” Vilsack said in an interview with the AP. “To me, it’s an opportunity argument.”

Congress and the administration could change the ethanol mandate, tweak its goals or demand more safeguards. Going to Congress and rewriting the law would mean picking a fight with agricultural lobbyists, a fight that would put the administration on the side of big oil companies, which despise the ethanol requirement.

So the ethanol policy cruises on autopilot.

Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol lobbying group, said there’s no reason to change the standards. Ethanol still looks good compared to the oil industry, which increasingly relies on environmentally risky tactics like hydraulic fracturing or pulls from carbon-heavy tar sands.

Leroy Perkins, the farmer agonizing about what to do with his 91 acres, says he likes ethanol as a product and an industry. But he knows it fuels the corn prices that are transforming his county.

“If they do change the fuel standard, you’ll see the price of corn come down overnight,” he said. “I like to see a good price for corn. But when it’s too high, it hurts everybody.”

Investors from as far away as Maryland and Pennsylvania have bought thousands of acres in Wayne County, sending prices skyrocketing from $350 per acre a decade ago to $5,000 today.

One in every four acres of in the county is now owned by an out-of-towner.

Those who still own land often rent it to farming companies offering $300 or more per acre. Perkins could make perhaps $27,000 a year if he let somebody plant corn on his land. That’s nothing to dismiss in a county where typical household income is $36,000.

But he knows what that means. He sees the black streaks in his neighbor’s cornfields, knowing the topsoil washes away with every rain. He doesn’t want that for his family’s land.

“You have to decide, do you want to be the one to. .”

He doesn’t finish his sentence.

“We all have to look at our pocketbooks.”

___

Associated Press writers Jack Gillum in Washington and Chet Brokaw in Roscoe, S.D., contributed to this report.

Source

Oil Forever!

By Alan Caruba

I suspect that most people think the Earth is running out of oil or that the U.S. and the rest of the world are “addicted” to its use.

Both beliefs are wrong, but in different ways. First because the Earth produces oil in abundance deep within its mantel in ways that have nothing to do with dead dinosaurs and gives no indication of ever stopping this natural process and, second, because the use of oil for fuel and for thousands of other applications, not the least of which is plastics, is one of the great blessings of modern technology and life.

All this is made dazzlingly clear in Dr. Jerome R. Corsi’s new book, “The Great Oil Conspiracy” ($22.95, Skyhorse Publishing). By way of explaining why there is so much oil within the planet Dr. Corsi tells the story of the Nazi regimes development of synthetic oil after German scientists “cracked the code God built into the heart of chemistry to form hydrocarbons in the first place.” Known as the “Fischer-Tropsch” process, it permitted the Nazis to pursue war even though Germany had no oil fields of its own.

The widespread use of the term “fossil fuels” is a deception created by anti-energy propagandists and earlier theorists to make people believe that oil is the result of countless dead dinosaurs and decaying vegetation. Oil, however, is “abiotic”, a term that means it is a natural product of the earth itself “manufactured at deep levels where there never were any plants or animals.”

Corsi writes of Thomas Gold, a professor of astronomy who taught at Cornell University. In 1998 he published a controversial book entitled “The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels” in which he applied his knowledge of the solar system, noting that carbon is the fourth more abundant element in the universe, right after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. Gold pointed out that “carbon is found mostly in compounds with hydrogen—hydrocarbons—which, at different temperatures and pressures, may be gaseous, liquid, or solid.”

Gold, who passed away in 2004, was way ahead of most other scientists with his assertion that the earth produces oil at very deep levels. While telling the story of how the U.S. went to great lengths to acquire the data regarding synthetic oil production as our military overran Germany and then took care not to let the public know about. It was, after all, our own oil industry that had provided the fuel that aided the war effort in both theatres.

Correspondingly, the oil industry had no reason to develop “relatively expensive synthetic oil when billions of dollars in profits could be made annually bringing to market naturally produced and reasonably priced hydrocarbon fuels, including crude oil and natural gas.”

This mirrors the efforts of “renewable” energy producers, wind, solar, and biofuels like ethanol, to profit at the cost of billions of dollars in subsidies and loan guarantees paid for by taxpayers along with higher electricity and gasoline bills paid for by consumers; all of which are mandated by the federal government. It is pure crony capitalism to enrich a few at the expense of all the rest of us. None of these alternative forms of power could exist or even compete without such government mandated support.

As Dr. Corsi points out, “Eliminating the fear that the world is running out of oil eliminates an urgency to experiment with or to implement alternative fuels including biofuels, wind energy, and solar energy as long as these energies remain less energy-efficient, less reliable, and more costly than using oil and natural gas.”

There are, in fact, “more proven petroleum reserves than ever before, despite the increasing rate at which we are consuming petroleum products worldwide” says Dr. Corsi, noting that the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, in on record that “there are more proven crude oil reserves worldwide than ever in recorded history, despite the fact that worldwide consumption of crude oil has doubled since the 1970s.”

So tell me why, since the Obama administration took over, have gas prices per gallon risen from $1.84 to $3.80 now, a rise of 105%? The American Energy Alliance compared costs between 2009 and 2012, publishing them to reveal that we are all paying more for energy. The average monthly residential electricity bill has increased 6% and annual household energy expenses have increased 31%.

At the same time, the Obama Department of Energy increased new rules whose implementation cost more than $100 million each 141%! The Environmental Protection Agency increase of such regulations increased 40%, the Department of the Interior, 13%.

Total regulatory costs (all sectors) went from $1,172 trillion in 2009 to $1,752 trillion today! If you were trying to bankrupt the energy sector and its consumers, this is a great way to do it.

You can access the AEA chart at:  Click Here

The Obama administration came into office declaring a war on coal, further restricting oil and natural gas exploration on federal lands and offshore, and wasting billions on solar, wind, and biofuel companies. That in itself would be reason enough to turn them out of office.

The Earth is not running out of oil and likely never will.

© Alan Caruba, 2012

Source

Study: Biofuels mandate could increase EU CO2 emissions

Published 17 September 2012

European biofuel mandates are unlikely to deliver a significant reduction and could even increase greenhouse gas emissions unless land use factors are considered, says a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The ICCT report suggests that Brussels is on the right track with its new biofuels rules, leaked last week, in which the EU executive backtracked on its policy goal of a 5.75% share for biofuels in the transport sector’s renewable energy targets.

The ICCT paper claims that, if not revised to address indirect land-use change (ILUC) the renewable energy directive could be expected to deliver a carbon saving of only 4% compared to fossil fuels, with a 30% chance actually of causing a net emissions increase.

The implementation of indirect land use change factors is likely to significantly increase carbon savings from biofuel policy, it says.

Such factors would also allow Europe to meet the directive’s target for a minimum 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels compared to fossil fuels.

All of the carbon savings from the policy are likely to come from use of bioethanol, since its main source – sugarcane – uses less land than biodiesels made from palm and vegetable oils.

Biodiesel from non-waste vegetable oil, the study says, is “likely to have a worse carbon footprint that fossil diesel“.

No basis for biodiesel

“Given that biodiesel production is also expected to be worse for a range of other environmental indicators (e.g. acidification, eutrophication, biodiversity) … than fossil diesel, there is no environmental basis for the EU to continue to support the supply of biodiesel … from non-waste vegetable oil.”

Under the leaked EU proposal, the EU executive will end all subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, a major blow to a sector worth an estimated €17 billion a year in Europe alone.

Angela Corbalan, EU media and communications officer for Oxfam, said her organisation viewed the leaked Commission proposal as a “step in the right direction.”

“If adopted”, she said in emailed comments, “it will send a strong signal that the Commission eventually wants to stop promoting the use of food for fuel and climate change damaging biofuels.”

A ‘crystal ball’ exercise

Rob Vierhout, secretary-general of ePure, a trade group representing the bioethanol industry, said he doubted the significance of ILUC factors in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

“I don’t trust this science”, he said, adding that at this particular point in time no clear methodology exists: “It’s a crystal ball exercise. No one can give hard numbers on iLUC.”

Vierhout also condemned the Commission policy u-turn as “inconsistent policymaking”.

“We’ve invested billions of euros”, he said. “Now the Commission says they’re going to change the game.” ePure would put up a strong fight against the proposed law, he vowed.

The criticism echoes many others in a biofuel industry which argues that current modelling, such as that used in the ICCT study, is not robust enough for use in policymaking.

Food prices vs CO2 emissions

Nusa Urbancic, clean fuels campaigner for the Transport & Environment NGO, said that despite the Commission proposing to cut the use of crop-based biofuels, the bioethanol industry could benefit from the new law.

European demand for biodiesel exceeds bioethanol, as more European cars run on diesel but, while the proposed law would hit all crop-based fuels – including ethanol made from sugar cane – the market for fuels better in iLUC factors could increase.

“It will still be good for them because there will be an incentive to move towards biofuels with lower factors”, Urbancic said.

Land used to power European cars with biofuels for one year could produce enough wheat and  maize to feed 127 million people, said a study released by Oxfam ahead of the EU Energy Ministers’ meeting today (17 September).

“With the world’s poorest at greater risk of hunger as a result of spiralling food prices, the international agency is calling on the EU to rethink its dangerous love affair with biofuels”, read a statement accompanying the study.

Positions:

Biofuels are wreaking havoc on tight food markets and our forests, increasing hunger and accelerating climate change just so Europe can fuel its cars,” said Robbie Blake, the biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

“The EU needs to comprehensively close the carbon accounting loophole [from ILUC], otherwise biofuels will continue to expand agriculture for fuel at the expense of forests and natural habitats, and increase carbon emissions.” He continued: “After months of delay, the Commission has come up with a messy compromise that acknowledges that ILUC is extremely serious, but then fails to address it in all pieces of legislation. This proposal would see an increase in Europe’s biofuels made from food, when what we need at this time of food crisis is to stop burning them altogether.”

“Europe has helped spark a global rush for biofuels that is forcing poor families from their homes, while big business piles up the profits. Biofuels were meant to make transport greener, but European governments are pouring consumers’ money down the drain, whilst depriving millions of people of food, land and water,” said Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Office.

Study: Biofuels mandate could increase EU CO2 emissions | EurActiv.

Mandating the impossible: The EPA and cellulosic ethanol

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January 3, 2012 | Posted by Ken Cohen

Here’s a New Year’s resolution worth making: Let’s not mandate the impossible.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency did just that last week, setting new quotas for 2012 that will require the nation’s refiners to add 8.65 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol to America’s fuel supplies.

The only catch: America doesn’t have the cellulosic ethanol to meet that standard.

Cellulosic ethanol is intended to be an advanced alternative to corn-based ethanol. By deriving it from inedible plant matter such as switchgrass, wood chips, and wheat straw, the hope is that cellulosic ethanol could supplement our transportation fuels in a way that is more efficient and has fewer harmful impacts on the environment and food prices than corn-based ethanol.
In practical terms, cellulosic ethanol still faces significant challenges. The scientific community and American industry have yet to find a way to make the fuel cost competitive.

As the National Research Council stated last month in a lengthy study on biofuels, “Currently, no commercially viable biorefineries exist for converting cellulosic biomass to fuel.”

This technological fact hasn’t stopped the EPA from setting impossible standards in the past. It mandated cellulosic ethanol quotas in 2010 and 2011, which failed abysmally, according to the EPA’s own data. (See chart.) In other words, the EPA’s decision makers should know better by now – and choose a new course of action.

Congress gave the EPA discretionary power to set what is called the Renewable Fuel Standard to take into account the state of investment, innovation, and capabilities of the biofuels sector. When lawmakers passed the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007, they set lofty goals that many throughout the broader economy knew were impossible to meet.

Congress set a goal of producing 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by the year 2022. Of that 36 billion gallons, nearly half (16 billion gallons) was supposed to come from yet-to-be-discovered breakthroughs in non-corn based ethanol.

That’s why the EPA was given flexibility. So, who will be paying for the impossible-to-reach EPA standards in 2012? The American economy and the American consumer.

Under the current law, refiners (and, indirectly, consumers) have to pay a fee for failing to blend cellulosic ethanol into existing fuel supplies. Meanwhile, because there is no alternative but to pay the fee, it has quietly turned into a revenue-raising device that contributes nothing to energy, growth, or jobs.

What should EPA and Washington do? It’s easy. Stop picking winners and losers in the marketplace – and let industry compete and do what we do best, which is to invest and innovate to bring real and affordable energy to consumers in a safe, secure, and environmentally responsible way.

As the president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association said, “Instead of imposing an unreasonable biofuels mandate, which would raise energy costs and impact fuel supplies, government should allow consumer choice and the free market to determine the mix of energy sources to best meet our nation’s needs.”

Rather than mandating the impossible, lawmakers and regulators should instead resolve to let markets work.

Source

Letter: What good is altruism?

April 23, 2011 – 12:34am

Does it really make sense to descend into mediocrity by embracing the idealism of environmental altruism?

I too believe we should seek and develop energy sources that don’t propagate malignant parasites that eat away at the host.

We are technologically tied to fossil fuels. We pay billions of taxpayer dollars to Petrobras – in Brazil – to drill in the same Gulf of Mexico waters while the federal government is disallowing American companies to explore for that fuel.

That seems to be irresponsible at best; at worst it is economic malfeasance.

To think that ethanol is the answer is ludicrous: David Pimental of Cornell University postulates that “70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it.”

And economist Ed Yardeni said: “because the U.S. provides more than half of global corn exports and 40 percent soybean exports … our ethanol policy is exacerbating the global food fight.”

We must wake up to the realization that the sophistry being spread by some benevolent environmentalist politicians may indeed be nefarious subterfuge in an attempt to undermine our very way of life.

Allow exploration and refining while seeking “viable” energy sources.

Rick Allsup

Amarillo

Original Article

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