This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. EDT.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) yesterday backed off efforts to block EPA from weighing contested ethanol emissions after Administrator Lisa Jackson pledged that biofuels rules will reflect uncertainty around international indirect land-use change emissions.
Harkin and several other farm-state members had crafted an amendment to the agency's fiscal 2010 spending bill that would have barred use of funds to consider these greenhouse gas emissions when implementing the national biofuels mandate. The bill is currently on the Senate floor (see related story).
"In light of the EPA letter, and because EPA had said [the amendment] would delay issuing regulations to establish renewable fuel volume biofuel requirements for 2010," Harkin dropped the amendment, spokesman Grant Gustafson said. Harkin believes that setting those requirements in a timely manner is "critically important" to reducing oil import reliance, he added.
International indirect land-use change emissions refer to scenarios such as carbon released if U.S. biofuels production prompts deforestation in other countries to compensate for U.S. cropland devoted to fuels.
A 2007 law that boosted the national biofuels mandate requires biofuels to have lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum fuels by varying degrees, and EPA must consider these indirect emissions as part of the requirement.
The ethanol industry and its allies in Congress argue the science around linking U.S. biofuels to foreign land-use changes is too murky to be employed in the EPA rules and have been on the attack all summer.
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) added language to the House climate and energy bill in June that would bar EPA from considering including emissions from indirect land-use changes abroad for five years.
Environmentalists and their allies, meanwhile, say such emissions can and must be considered, because otherwise biofuels policy could support ventures that worsen global warming.
Consideration of the indirect emissions has prompted opposition even though current corn ethanol production is exempt from the lifecycle emissions requirements.
In a letter to Harkin yesterday, Jackson said that feedback on rules proposed in May to implement the mandate and peer review on lifecycle emissions are prompting the agency to conduct an "uncertainty analysis" on the land-use issue.
"This analysis will allow us to quantify the impact of uncertainty on the lifecycle emissions," the letter states. "We will present these estimates in the final rule, and I plan to incorporate those estimates of uncertainty in my regulatory decisions."
Jackson's letter stops well short of the ethanol industry's goal of keeping these international land-use changes out of the EPA rulemaking.
While noting there are "significant uncertainties" associated with the lifecycle emissions estimates, the letter states that peer review and feedback on the proposed rule "indicate that it is important to take into account indirect emissions from biofuels when looking at the lifecycle emissions as required by EISA."
EISA is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that expanded the biofuels standard and attached the greenhouse gas requirements.
Click here to read the EPA letter.