Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) is planning to offer an amendment to U.S. EPA's spending bill tomorrow that would bar the agency from considering the effects of "indirect" land-use changes when calculating the carbon footprint of biofuels.
Emerson hopes to add the provision when the House Appropriations Committee marks up EPA's fiscal 2010 budget tomorrow. Emerson and many other farm state lawmakers -- most notably Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) -- oppose the way EPA is determining biofuels' emissions in draft rules to implement the national renewable fuels standard.
A 2007 law expanded the biofuels mandate to reach 36 billion gallons by 2022, and requires that biofuels, to varying degrees, have lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline and diesel.
Emerson's amendment would prevent funds in the fiscal 2010 bill from being used to promulgate rules that measure emissions from indirect land-use changes as part of the overall calculation of biofuels emissions.
The biofuels industry and allied lawmakers oppose EPA's measurement of emissions from indirect land-use changes linked to expanded biofuels production. Indirect land-use changes refer to ripple effects from using more corn and other crops to produce biofuels. An example of an indirect land-use change would be the clearing of rainforests in other countries to grow crops for food -- which releases stored carbon -- to compensate for increased use of U.S. farmland to make fuels feedstocks.
Opponents of considering indirect land-use changes say the science is far too young and hazy to plausibly link U.S. farm practices to deforestation in countries like Brazil and Indonesia.
"We should not base government policy on unproven theories that could derail the progress America's ethanol producers and farmers have made toward a greener, more energy independent America," said Tom Buis, CEO of the ethanol trade group Growth Energy, in statement today.
But environmentalists, who are opposing the Emerson amendment, say that while methods for calculating these emissions are evolving, these effects cannot be ignored. Otherwise, they say, federal biofuels policy could support ventures that worsen global warming and deforestation.
Kate McMahon of Friends of the Earth criticized the amendment, saying concerns about EPA's calculations should be addressed through comment on the draft rule, rather than an amendment to shut down EPA's work. "There is already an appropriate process to make your complaints," she said.
Failure to include the calculations would "cast biofuels in a positive light that they really should not be cast in," McMahon added.
Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA spending, said this afternoon that he is leaning against Emerson's amendment but is still reviewing it. "We think that they ought to at least be able to evaluate indirect land use, but I'm still thinking about this one," he said, noting he had just learned about it.
Peterson has introduced legislation that would alter the 2007 renewable fuels standard to prevent calculation of emissions from indirect land-use changes. His fight against EPA's efforts has spilled over into negotiations with other Democrats on sweeping House energy and climate legislation, where Peterson is seeking concessions along several fronts.
The indirect emissions measurements have been the most closely watched aspect of EPA's draft rules to implement the biofuels standard. The agency is soliciting input on its methods.
The 2007 law applies varying degrees of greenhouse gas requirements on biofuels under the mandate. Corn ethanol, which reaches 15 billion gallons under the renewable fuels standard, must have at least 20 percent fewer lifecycle emissions, while advanced biofuels must fare even better. Cellulosic ethanol, which is not yet produced commercially, must have 60 percent fewer emissions than conventional fuels.
Most of these 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol are "grandfathered" because the 2007 bill's emissions requirements apply only to fuels from plants built after the law's enactment. Nonetheless, Peterson and other ethanol supporters still oppose measuring the indirect emissions and have claimed they will undercut expansion of the biofuels industry in general.
"You are going to kill off the biofuels industry before it gets started," Peterson told an EPA official at a hearing last month.
EPA's draft rule found that traditional corn ethanol and soy-based biodiesel could have slightly more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline and diesel when a 30-year time frame is analyzed, although they fare better using a 100-year analysis. It showed very steep emissions cuts if ethanol were made from switchgrass or corn stover.
Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.