Bush Administration Rushing Through Lame-Duck Energy And Environment Actions

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 31 Oct 2008 21:02:00 GMT

The House Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence has issued a report, Past is Prologue, listing many of the energy and environmental regulations, rulemakings, and notices the Bush administration is expected to issue (or in some cases, illegally avoid issuing) in its final months in office. As R. Jeffrey Smith writes in the Washington Post, “The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo.” Here’s a partial list:
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to finalize an NSR rule before the end of the administration that would essentially exempt all existing power plants from having to install new pollution control technology when these plants are updated.
  • In a separate NSR rule, EPA plans to exempt so-called “fugitive” emissions – meaning emissions that don’t come out of the end of a stack such as volatile organic compounds emitted from leaking pipes and fittings at petroleum refineries – from consideration in determining whether NSR is triggered.
  • EPA is also set to finalize a third rule weakening the NSR program, by allowing so-called “batch process facilities” – like oil refineries and chemical plants – to artificially ignore certain emissions when determining when NSR is triggered.
  • EPA is also working towards weakening air pollution regulations on power plants and other emissions sources adjacent to national parks and other pristine, so-called “Class I” areas. By changing the modeling of new power plants’ impact on air quality in national parks – using annual emissions averages as opposed to shorter daily or monthly periods – the EPA rule will make it easier for such plants to be built close to parks.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued proposed regulations to implement the EISA fuel economy standards (increase by the maximum feasible amount each year, such that it reaches at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020) in April 2008, and final regulations are expected soon. If NHTSA used EIA’s higher gasoline price scenario—a range of $3.14/gallon in 2016 to $3.74/gallon in 2030—the technology is available to cost-effectively achieve a much higher fleet wide fuel economy of nearly 35 mpg in 2015 – instead of the 31.6 mpg in 2015 under the lower gas prices used in NHTSA’s proposed rule.
  • EPA is expected to issue proposed regulations soon on the renewable fuels provisions passed in EISA that required America’s fuel supply to include 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 – together with more specific volumetric requirements and lifecycle greenhouse gas benchmarks for “advanced” renewable fuels, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel.
  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) has already telegraphed its intention to gut the Endangered Species Act by rushing through 300,000 comments on proposed rules in 32 hours, then providing a mere 10-day public comment period on the Environmental Assessment of the proposed rules change. The proposed rules would take expert scientific review out of many Endangered Species Act (ESA) processes, and could exempt the effects of global warming pollution on threatened or endangered species.
  • DOI intends to finalize new regulations governing commercial development of oil shale on more than 2 million acres of public lands in the West.
  • DOI’s Office of Surface Mining is expected before the end of the administration to issue a final rule that would extend the current rule (which requires a 100-foot buffer zone around streams to protect them from mining practices) so that it also applies to all other bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds and wetlands. But the rule would also exempt many harmful practices – such as permanent coal waste disposal facilities – and could even allow for changing a waterway’s flow.
  • EPA has already missed several deadlines to finalize a rule addressing whether concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are required to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act.
  • EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers may issue a revised guidance memo on how to interpret the phrase “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act, which determines what water bodies are subject to regulation under the Act.
  • Under the Omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2008, EPA was directed to establish a mandatory reporting rule for greenhouse gas emissions, using its existing authority under the Clean Air Act, by September 2008. EPA has been working on a proposed rule, which may or may not be issued before the end of the Bush administration. EPA will not issue a final rule before the end of the administration.

Farm Bill conference meeting

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 29 Apr 2008 18:30:00 GMT

View the webcast.

E&E News:
With an agreement among key farm bill negotiators finally in hand, the conference committee is expected to make swift work this week on the reauthorization of the five-year bill overseeing agriculture, conservation, energy and nutrition programs.

The committee will hold a formal conference meeting this evening, where they are expected to approve a new framework for funding and offsets for the bill that key House-Senate negotiators from the tax and agriculture panels agreed to late Friday.

Energy Harvest: Power From the Farm—An E&E Special Report

The new framework for the bill includes a $4 billion boost above the current baseline for conservation programs and $10.3 billion in new spending on nutrition.

Crop subsidies and reductions to a proposed disaster relief program took the brunt of the spending cuts to offset the new spending, lawmakers said.

The framework also includes a pared-down version of the Senate’s tax package that would roll back tax cuts for corn-based ethanol and give new tax breaks for the cellulosic ethanol and timber industries.

The leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees reached the agreement Friday after several days of intense closed-door negotiations in the Capitol. Lawmakers still have to work out some details of the $300 billion, five-year measure, but they said they expect a swift resolution of the conference this week.

“There were some tough spots, but we were able to get by all of that,” House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said after meetings Friday. “Any member can offer any amendment [in the conference committee], but I don’t see a need for any votes—I think we’ve got this so it won’t require any of that.”

The agreement still must reach approval of the conference committee and the full House and Senate, as well as the White House. President Bush has held a hard line with the farm bill, threatening to veto it unless it reforms crop subsidies and avoid tax increases.

Bush administration officials were not present for the negotiations last week. A White House spokesman said they are reserving judgment until they can review the entire package.

“As we’ve said in the past, the president believes that a new farm bill should include important reforms, not raise taxes and be fiscally responsible,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

The leaders of the House and Senate tax panel agreed to rely on customs-users fees to offset much of the $10 billion in new spending for the bill. The fees, most of which would come from importers, do not classify as a tax and have not raised a red flag with the White House.

But other advocates for overhauling the farm bill are hopeful the White House will continue to press for more changes to the measure. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) said he hopes Bush “will stand firm in his commitment to a better bill.” Kind is one of the leaders of a group of House members pushing to throw out much of the current subsidy program.

“Negotiators managed to avoid every opportunity to reform wasteful, outdated subsidies while piling on additional layers of unnecessary spending,” said Kind. “It looks as though nothing has been done to address the waste and abuse that has been well documented over the last year.” No limits for farmers

One of the outstanding issues for the bill is limitations on crop subsidies—a controversial area where reformers like Kind would like to see more change.

Lawmakers said they are still working out a deal on income limits for crop subsidy recipients. Peterson said it would likely lower the cap for people who make most of their income off the farm, but have no limitation for on-farm income.

“The people who are going to take a big hit in the bill are non-farmers,” said Peterson.

Advocates for farm bill reform want to place more stringent limits on how much money landowners can receive in federal subsidies—regardless of where their income comes from.

The Bush administration proposed barring anyone who makes more than $200,000 per year from farm supports.

The Senate’s version of the farm bill, approved in December, would stop payments to non-farmers who make more than $750,000 a year. It had no income caps for farmers. The House bill would cut off farm payments for millionaire farmers or non-farmers who make more than $500,000. Both prompted veto threats from Bush. Corn gives way to cellulosic subsidies

The agreement also includes a package of tax incentives that totals close to $1.5 billion, according to members of the Finance Committee.

The package includes extensions and reductions of the ethanol tax credits and tariffs, said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The move is a step toward gradually transitioning the corn-ethanol industry to standing on its own. The package instead favors supports for cellulosic ethanol.

“It is a signal we are ready to shift to other less disruptive forms of ethanol production,” Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said of the package.

Corn-ethanol subsidies would see an almost 12 percent hit. The current 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit for corn-based ethanol would drop to 45 cents. In conjunction with that, it would also reduce the tariff on imported ethanol, Grassley said.

The winner in the tax package is cellulosic ethanol—made from corn stalks, woody plants or grasses. It would get a $1-per-gallon subsidy.

The move marks a significant shift for the farm-state lawmakers, who have been some of the biggest advocates for ethanol supports, and the booming grain and refinery industries that have come with them.

“This is a signal to the country that we’re starting to move away from corn to cellulose,” Peterson said. Sodsaver exemptions

The agreement includes protections for virgin prairie, long-sought from environmental groups, but has loopholes to allow some states to ignore them.

Conservation advocates have been pushing for years for a sodsaver program to bar federal subsidies for farmers who plow up native prairie.

The Senate sodsaver language, favored by conservation groups, would block crop insurance and disaster payments for farmers who plant on native prairie. The House bill limits the crop insurance ineligibility to four years.

The conference agreement has an “amalgam” of the House and Senate sodsaver provisions, Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Friday. All of the prairie pothole states would have to comply, but Montana and North Dakota would only opt in at their governors’ discretion.

Sodsaver is intended to address what conservation groups say is a backward system in current farm policy. The 2002 farm bill offers landowners conservation payments to conserve grasslands, but also gives crop insurance and crop subsidies that encourage plowing them up.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report this fall calling federal subsidies an “important factor” in encouraging the conversion of millions of acres of grasslands to row crops. The United States lost almost 25 million acres of privately owned grasslands between 1982 and 2003, GAO said. Conservation

The $4 billion increase for conservation trails the numbers negotiators had previously discussed, but still would give a significant boost to most farmland conservation programs.

Much of the conservation money would go to restore funding for programs that would otherwise expire under current law. The expiring Wetlands Reserve Program would get $1.3 billion above the 10-year baseline and the Grasslands Reserve Program would get $300 million.

The framework shifts almost $2.5 billion from the Conservation Reserve Program to other conservation programs—cutting down the Agriculture Department’s largest conservation program but infusing other working-lands programs with some of the money in its budget.

Lawmakers said it lowers the acreage cap for CRP to more closely reflect the reality of the program, which pays farmers to idle land.

The framework allots for 32 million acres in CRP. That total is less than the current limit of 39 million acres but still more land than most USDA officials expect to see in the program in the next several years. Enticed by high commodity prices, farmers have been taking some land out of the program, and USDA has held off on new open enrollments.

Other conservation programs would see a boost under the framework. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program would see a $2.4 billion increase over baseline levels, the Conservation Stewardship Program gets $1.1 billion, and the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program gets $560 million. A new program for the Chesapeake Bay comes in at $372 million.

Biofuels, Land Conversion and Climate Change

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 25 Apr 2008 16:00:00 GMT

Are all biofuels equal in terms of their capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to the use of gasoline? If not, what factors determine which biofuels have greater capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? What is the most reliable method of measuring a biofuel’s effectiveness for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? What role does land conversion make in determining the effectiveness of biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Which biofuels of the future are likely to result in maximal reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? How close are we to that future?

  • Dr. Anthony Socci, Senior Science Fellow, American Meteorological Society
  • Dr. Joseph E. Fargione, Regional Science Director, The Nature Conservancy, Central US Region, Minneapolis, MN
  • Timothy Searchinger, Visiting Scholar and Lecturer in Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton, NJ
  • Dr. Daniel M. Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy, Professor in the Energy and Resources Group Energy and Resources Group (ERG) , Professor of Public Policy in the Goldman School of Public Policy, Professor of Nuclear Engineering in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, and Co-Director, Berkeley Institute of the Environment, and Founding Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), University of California, Berkeley, CA
  • Dr. G. David Tilman, Regents’ Professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in Ecology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN

Program Summary

Biofuels: Threats and Opportunities

  • It is possible to make biofuels that reduce carbon emissions, but only if we ensure that they do not lead to additional land clearing.
  • When land is cleared for agriculture, carbon that is locked up in the plants and soil is released through burning and decomposition. The carbon is released as carbon dioxide, which is an important greenhouse gas, and causes further global warming.
  • Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a “biofuel carbon debt” by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the annual greenhouse gas reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels.
  • Depending on future biofuel production, the effects of this clearing could be significant for climate change: globally, there is almost three times as much carbon locked up in the plants and soils of the Earth as there is in the air and 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from land use change.
  • Global demand for food is expected to double in the next 50 years and is unlikely to be met entirely from yield increases, thus requiring significant land clearing. If existing cropland is insufficient to meet imminent food demands, then any dedicated biofuel crop production will necessarily create demand for additional cropland to be cleared.
  • Several forms of biofuels do not cause land clearing, including biofuels made from algae, from waste biomass, or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials.

Present Generation of Biofuels: Reducing or Enhancing Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Previous studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gasses because growing the crops for biofuels sequesters takes carbon out of the air that burning only puts back, while gasoline takes carbon out of the ground and puts it into the air. These analyses have typically not taken into consideration carbon emissions that result from farmers worldwide converting forest or grassland to produce biofuels, or that result from farmers worldwide responding to higher prices and converting forest and grassland into new cropland to replace the grain (or cropland) diverted to biofuels. Our revised analysis suggests that greenhouse gas emissions from the land use changes described above, for most biofuels that use productive land, are likely to substantially increase over the next 30 years. Even advanced biofuels from biomass, if produced on good cropland, could have adverse greenhouse gas effects. At the same time, diverting productive land raises crop prices and reduces consumption among the 2.8 billion people who live on less than $2 per day.

Simply avoiding biofuels produced from new land conversion – as proposed by a draft European Union law – does not avoid these global warming emissions because the world’s farmers will replace existing crops or cropland used for biofuels by expanding into other lands. The key to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and hunger from land use change is to use feedstocks that do not divert the existing productive capacity of land – whether that production stores carbon (as in forest and grassland) or generates food or wood products. Waste products, including municipal and slash forest waste from private lands, agricultural residues and cover crops provide promising opportunities. There may also be opportunities to use highly unproductive grasslands where biomass crops can be grown productively, but those opportunities must be explored carefully.

Biofuels and a Low-Carbon Economy

The low-carbon fuel standard is a concept and legal requirement in California and an expanding number of states that targets the amount of greenhouse gases produced per unit of energy delivered to the vehicle, or carbon intensity. In January 2007, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-1-07, which called for a 10-percent reduction in the carbon intensity of his state’s transportation fuels by 2020. A research team in which Dr. Kammen participated developed a technical analysis of low-carbon fuels that could be used to meet that mandate. That analysis employs a life-cycle, “cradle to grave” analysis of different fuel types, taking into consideration the ecological footprint of all activities included in the production, transport, storage, and use of the fuel.

Under a low-carbon fuel standard, fuel providers would track the “global warming intensity” (GWI) of their products and express it as a standardized unit of measure—the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent per amount of fuel delivered to the vehicle (gCO2e/MJ). This value measures vehicle emissions as well as other trade-offs, such as land-use changes that may result from biofuel production. For example, an analysis of ethanol shows that not all biofuels are created equal. While ethanol derived from corn but distilled in a coal-powered refinery is in fact worse on average than gasoline, some cellulosic-based biofuels – largely those with little or no impact on agricultural or pristine lands have the potential for a dramatically lower GWI.

Equipped with detailed measurements that relate directly to the objectives of a low-carbon fuel standard, policy makers are in a position to set standards for a state or nation, and then regulate the value down over time. The standard applies to the mix of fuels sold in a region, so aggressively pursuing cleaner fuels permits some percentage of more traditional, dirtier fuels to remain, a flexibility that can enhance the ability to introduce and enforce a new standard.

The most important conclusions from this analysis are that biofuels can play a role in sustainable energy future, but the opportunities for truly low-carbon biofuels may be far more limited than initially thought. Second, a low-carbon economy requires a holistic approach to energy sources – both clean supply options and demand management – where consistent metrics for actual carbon emissions and impacts are utilized to evaluate options. Third, land-use impacts of biofuel choices have global, not just local, impact, and a wider range of options, including, plug-in hybrid vehicles, dramatically improved land-use practices including sprawl management and curtailment, and greatly increased and improved public transport all have major roles to play.

Biofuels and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A Better Path Forward

The recent controversy over biofuels notwithstanding, the US has the potential to meet the legislated 21 billion gallon biofuel goal with biofuels that, on average, exceed the targeted reduction in greenhouse gas release, but only if feedstocks are produced properly and biofuel facilities meet their energy demands with biomass.

A diversity of alternative feedstocks can offer great GHG benefits. The largest GHG benefits will come from dedicated perennial crops grown with low inputs of fertilizer on degraded lands, and especially from those crops that increase carbon storage in soil (e.g., switchgrass, mixed species prairie, and Miscanthus). These may offer 100% or perhaps greater reductions in GHG relative to gasoline. Agricultural and forestry residues, and dedicated woody crops, including hybrid poplar and traditional pulp-like operations, should achieve 50% GHG reductions.

In contrast, if biofuel production leads to direct or indirect land clearing, the resultant carbon debt can negate for decades or longer any greenhouse gas benefits a biofuel could otherwise provide. Current legislation, which is outcome based, has anticipated this problem by mandating GHG standards for current and next generation biofuels.


Dr. Joseph E. Fargione is the Regional Science Director for The Nature Conservancy’s Central US Region. He received his doctorate in Ecology from the University of Minnesota in 2004. Prior to the joining The Nature Conservancy, he held positions as Assistant Research Faculty at the University of New Mexico (Biology Department), Assistant Professor at Purdue University (Departments of Biology and Forestry and Natural Resources), and Research Associate at the University of Minnesota (Departments of Applied Economics and Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior).

His work has focused on the benefits of biodiversity and the causes and consequences of its loss. Most recently, he has studied the effect of increasing demand for biofuels on land use, wildlife, and carbon emissions. He has authored 18 papers published in leading scientific journals, including Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Ecology, and Ecology Letters, and he was a coordinating lead author for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment chapter titled “Biodiversity and the regulation of ecosystem services.” His recent paper in Science, “Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt” was covered in many national media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News, and Time Magazine.

Timothy Searchinger is a Visiting Scholar and Lecturer in Public and International Affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. He is also a Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and a Senior Fellow at the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute. Trained as a lawyer, Dr. Searchinger now works primarily on interdisciplinary environmental issues related to agriculture.

Timothy Searchinger previously worked at the Environmental Defense Fund, where he co-founded the Center for Conservation Incentives, and supervised work on agricultural incentive and wetland protection programs. He was also a deputy General Counsel to Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania and a law clerk to Judge Edward R. Becker of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, of Amherst College and holds a J.D. from Yale Law School where he was Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Timothy Searchinger first proposed the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to USDA and worked closely with state officials to develop programs that have now restored one million acres of riparian buffers and wetlands to protect important rivers and bays. Searchinger received a National Wetlands Protection Award from the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 for a book about the functions of seasonal wetlands of which he was principal author. His most recent writings focus on the greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels, and agricultural conservation strategies to clean-up nutrient runoff. He is also presently writing a book on the effects of agriculture on the environment and ways to reduce them.

Dr. Daniel M. Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor in the Energy and Resources Group (ERG), in the Goldman School of Public Policy and in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the founding Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) and Co-Director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment.

Previously in his career, Dr. Kammen was an Assistant Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and also played a key role in developing the interdisciplinary Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP) Program at Princeton as STEP Chair from 1997 – 1999. In July of 1998 Kammen joined ERG as an Associate Professor of Energy and Society.

Dr. Kammen received his undergraduate degree in physics from Cornell University (1984), and his masters and doctorate in physics from Harvard University (1986 & 1988) for work on theoretical solid state physics and computational biophysics. First at Caltech and then as a Lecturer in Physics and in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Dr. Kammen developed a number of projects focused on renewable energy technologies and environmental resource management.

Dr. Kammen’s research interests include: the science, engineering, and policy of renewable energy systems; health and environmental impacts of energy generation and use; rural resource management, including issues of gender and ethnicity; international R&D policy, climate change; and energy forecasting and risk analysis. He is the author of over 200 peer-reviewed journal publications, a book on environmental, technological, and health risks, and numerous reports on renewable energy and development. He has also been a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. G. David Tilman is Regents’ Professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in Ecology at the University of Minnesota. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, and has served on editorial boards of nine scholarly journals, including Science. He serves on the Advisory Board for the Max Plank Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany. He has received the Ecological Society of America’s Cooper Award and its MacArthur Award, the Botanical Society of America’s Centennial Award, the Princeton Environmental Prize and was named a J. S. Guggenheim Fellow. He has written two books, edited three books, and published more than 200 papers in the peer-reviewed literature, including more than 30 papers in Science, Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. The Institute for Scientific Information recently designated him as the world’s most highly cited environmental scientist of the decade.

Dr. Tilman’s recent research explores how managed and natural ecosystems can sustainably meet human needs for food, energy and ecosystem services. A long-term focus of his research is on the causes, consequence and conservation of biological diversity, including using biodiversity as a tool for biofuel production and climate stabilization through carbon sequestration. His work on renewable energy examines the full environmental, energetic and economic costs and benefits of alternative biofuels and modes of their production.

Transatlantic Conference on Climate Change and Energy

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 25 Apr 2008 13:00:00 GMT

The Washington Conference will take place over two days. The first day will be an intensive expert workshop focusing on emissions from transport and biofuels use; this reflects concerns over the lack of action to address emissions from transport, rising concerns about expanded use of biofuels and pressure from some to include aviation, marine transport and road transport within cap and trade systems.

Day two will be a larger event designed to inform civil society more broadly about the differences and similarities between action in the EU and US, discuss best practice domestic solutions, demystify key policies such as the EU ETS etc. Discussions will predominantly focus on cap and trade, and the differing perceptions of actors on both sides of the Atlantic.

IEEP will be taking experts from the EU over to Washington for the event. European experts would take part in the workshop on day one, and potentially present ideas and concepts from a European perspective on day two.

If you would like to find out more about the conference please contact Sirini Withana (IEEP) or Melanie Nakagawa (NRDC).

For more information and background papers from previous T-PAGE discussions, visit the T-PAGE project website.

Location: 1616 P Street, NW, 1st Floor Conference Room
Resources for the Future building
Washington, DC 20036

The Auto Industry's New "Alliance"

Posted by Warming Law Thu, 27 Mar 2008 19:58:00 GMT

Hybrid Living, passing along a local report from earlier this week, delivers the news that even as Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson defends the state’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions as a party to California’s lawsuit against the EPA, its proposed clean cars law has stalled—perhaps fatally for this session—in the state legislature. Lobbying by the auto industry is playing a part, but a novel assist apparently goes to corn growers and ethanol producers, who argued that the law may harm efforts to expand ethanol markets and impair the certification of "flex-fuel" cars and trucks that run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline.

But is it really that novel? Advocates from Clean Energy Minnesota fervently deny that there’s any real reason for concern, and assert that the group principally repsonsible for ginning up local opposition is essentially a mouthpiece for the auto industry:

[James Erkel of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy] said the concern is baseless, pointing to GMC’s 2008 Sierra 1500 pickup that runs on a rich blend of E-85 (85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline) as well as similar vehicles that would meet the more stringent California standards.  The ARB’s Dimitri Stanich said California air regulators have certified 300,000 flex fuel vehicles and suggested there will be more as soon as the state increases the number of pumps offering E-85 fuel, which California is now doing.   


Erkel said that the auto industry is masquerading as an ethanol advocate as it enlists the corn growers and other farm groups to beat back legislation in Minnesota. The default "technical advisor" to the ethanol groups opposing the Marty and Hortman bills is the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, headquartered in Jefferson City, Mo. Its 16-member board of directors includes representatives of Chrysler, Ford, GMC and Nissan.

Obviously it’s not shocking that the auto industry would employ astroturf tactics and overwrought arguments to delay clean cars legislation (though it is noteworthy, in terms of looking at the industry’s credibility, to see a spokesman admit that the usual suspects "can’t stop this bill by ourselves"). The Minn Post also notes that when it asked the Minnesota Corn Growers and the Farm Bureau to explain their position, the silence was deafening and the apparent reliance on the aforementioned "technical advisors" clear:    

Calls by MinnPost to the Corn Growers and the Farm Bureau ended with representatives saying they needed to check with their "technical people" for specific reasons for the groups’ opposition to the legislation. Neither group’s representatives called back with what they may have learned from their technical advisers.   

Hybrid Living’s Sam Abuelsamid, agreeing that there’s nothing here to justify delaying the legislation other than a slight hypothetical concern, suggests that local opponents ought to look elsewhere for solutions to their concerns:

There doesn’t actually appear to be anything in the proposed legislation that would specifically harm the E85 market….It appears that the only way that this actually affects Team Ethanol is if the CO2 limits hurt sales of larger cars and full-size trucks which comprise the bulk of currently available flex-fuel vehicles. If truck sales are limited by de facto fuel economy requirements, than at least in the short term, E85-capable vehicle sales will suffer. Perhaps the ethanol side should be pushing the auto industry to make more of their vehicles E85 ready instead of fighting clean air rules.

Ecological Dimensions of Biofuels

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 10 Mar 2008 12:30:00 GMT

On March 10, 2008, The Ecological Society of America will host a one-day conference on the Ecological Dimensions of Biofuels. 500 attendees will have the opportunity to hear invited presentations by leading scientists on:
  • sustainable development and use of biofuels;
  • social, biogeographic, land use, and biodiversity considerations; and,
  • ecological dimensions of alternatives for crop selection and production, harvest and transport of product to refinery, and refining of liquid fuels and other co-products.

A keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Jose Goldemberg, Co-President of the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) Council and Professor at the Universidade de Sao Paulo. Goldemberg recently served as Secretary for the Environment of the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and was a lead author of the World Energy Assessment.

The conference will conclude with an evening social featuring additional poster presentations and opportunities for attendees to network with presenters and others working in this important field.

Full details, including an agenda, confirmed speakers, registration information, and sponsorship opportunities, are available at http://www.esa.org/biofuels.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

Time Topic Speaker
8:30 am “Environmental Impact of Biofuels Cropping Systems: Introduction”” Bill Parton Colorado State University
9:00 am “Defining Sustainable Biofuels – or, “It isn’t Easy Being Green”” John Sheehan LiveFuels, Inc.
9:30 am “Field to Fuel – Developing Sustainable Biorefineries” Robin Jenkins Dupont Central Research and Development Experiment Station
10:00 am BREAK
10:30 am “Biofuels and Water Quality in the Midwest: Corn vs. Switchgrass as Feedstocks” Catherine Kling Iowa State University
11:00 am “The Biogeochemistry of Bioenergy Landscapes: Clean Water, Clean Air, & Climate Mitigation vs. Business as Usual” Philip Robertson Michigan State University
11:30 am “Interactions between Biofuel Choices and Landscape Dynamics and Land use” Virginia Dale Oak Ridge National Laboratory
12:00 pm Keynote Address (with lunch) “Environmental and Ecological Dimensions of Biofuels” Jose Goldemberg Global Energy Assessment Council & Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brasil
1:30 pm “Biofuels and Biodiversity” John Wiens The Nature Conservancy
2:00 pm “Production of Biofuels Feedstock on Agriculture Land and Grasslands” Wally Wilhelm U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
2:30 pm “Are Rangeland Biofuel Feedstocks Ecologically Sustainable?” Linda Wallace University of Oklahoma
3:00 pm “Sustainable Biofuels and Bioproducts from our Forests” Marilyn Buford U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service
3:30 pm BREAK
4:00 pm “Municipal Solid Waste as Supplemental Feedstocks” Donna Perla U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
4:30 pm ” A Global-Scale Biofuels Program and its Environmental Consequences” Jerry Melillo The Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory
5:00 pm “The Rush to Biofuels and Ecological Perspectives in the Policy Process” Otto Doering Purdue University
5:30 pm Poster Social & Reception

Around the Web: DNI, Biofuels, China, Coal Corruption

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 15 Jan 2008 14:39:00 GMT

National Security David Sassoon at Solve Climate notes that Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, had this to say in a New Yorker profile when asked if Al Qaeda is the greatest threat America faces:
No, no, no, not at all. Terrorism can kill a lot of people, but it can’t fundamentally challenge the ability of the nation to exist. Fascism could have done that. Communism could have. I think our issue going forward is more engagement with the world in terms of keeping it on a reasonable path, so another ism doesn’t come along and drive it to one extreme or another.

And we have to some balance in terms of equitable distribution of wealth, containment of contagious disease, access to energy supplies, and development of free markets. There are national security ramifications to global warming.

Biofuels Technology Review has an extensive piece on the Price of Biofuels, covering the ramifications of America’s heavy investment in corn ethanol and the uncertain future of cellulosic ethanol. The New York Times reports Europe May Ban Imports of Some Biofuel Crops as it recognizes the drastic environmental harm and negative global-warming consequences of replacing rainforest with palm-oil plantations.

China In Dealing with the Dragon, Paul Krugman argues that China should be the U.S.’s primary foreign policy concern, in large part because of climate change, “which will eventually be recognized as the most crucial problem facing America and the world — maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives.”

Coal Heather Moyer at Sierra Club’s Clean Energy Watch points to another New York Times piece that reports:
A justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court and a powerful coal-company executive met in Monte Carlo in the summer of 2006, sharing several meals even as the executive’s companies were appealing a $50 million jury verdict against them to the court.

Biofuels, At What Cost?

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 14 Jan 2008 22:30:00 GMT

Energy: A Conversation About Our National Addiction BIOFUELS, AT WHAT COST? with Glenn Prickett of Conservation International

Co Sponsored by: DoD, DoE, USDA, EPA, DoT, DHS, DoI, FERC, Commerce, State, Labor, NASA, NSF and DNI on behalf of the entire Intelligence Community

January 14, 2008 5:30-6:15 PM Reception 6:15-8:30 PM Presentation & Discussion

Doubletree Hotel 300 Army Navy Drive, Arlington, VA

Biofuel subsidies continue to change at a very fast rate and do little to constrain the enormous environmental issues that arise when so much land and water are used to produce fuel. Glenn Prickett, Senior Vice President for Business and U.S. Government Relations at Conservation International, will address these issues and more at our first seminar of the new year. Join the Conversation.

Please RSVP to Sarah Minczeski, [email protected].

  • Registration is not mandatory but STRONGLY encouraged
  • Refreshments: A vegetarian friendly buffet is available for $10.
  • Transportation. The Pentagon City Metro on the blue/yellow line is just 3 blocks from the hotel.
  • Parking: Street parking is limited. Hotel parking with validation costs $8.

Opportunities for Bioenergy Production in Every State

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 31 Oct 2007 18:30:00 GMT

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to learn about the extensive biomass resources that are available in every state and region of the country to be tapped for sustainable production of electric power and heat. In 2005, bioenergy was the largest component of renewable electricity production in the nation, comprising 56 percent of all renewable electricity and 1.3 percent of total electricity. This percentage can be increased significantly since each state has important biomass resources that can be utilized sustainably to produce clean, renewable, domestic energy right now. Despite the skepticism of its opponents, bioenergy has the potential to sustainably reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost rural economies, provide jobs, revitalize rural communities, support farming, and implement sustainable forest stewardship.

Speakers for this event include:
  • Larry Biles, Executive Director, Southern Forest Research Partnership
  • Robert H. Davis, President, Forest Energy Corporation/Member, Future Forest, LLC.
  • Dr. David Bransby, Professor of Energy Crops and Bioenergy, Auburn University
  • Robert E. Cleaves, President, Cleaves and Company/Member, USA Biomass Power Producers Alliance

Assessments have determined that it would be possible to sustainably harvest at least 350 million dry tons of forest biomass, logging debris, and secondary wood residues per year. Additionally, as much as 1 billion dry tons of biomass from agricultural resources, including crop residues, dedicated energy crops, and animal manure could be made available for energy production. Although these resources vary from state to state, no state or region is without a sustainable biomass resource. Energy can be produced from, among other things, the thinnings and low-quality trees harvested as part of fuel reduction and wildfire treatments in the extensive western region, dedicated crops and agricultural residues from the enormous farmland base of the central states, and logging residues and wood waste from the managed forests and forest products industries of the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest. Other sources of useable biomass include clean urban wood waste, livestock manure, food industry residues, and, in some cases, municipal waste. In addition to heat and power, estimates indicate that up to 30 percent of liquid transportation fuels can be produced from the biomass resource.

This briefing will address a number of regionally appropriate technologies and feedstocks, as well as economic considerations. Topics considered will be heat and electric power production, the biorefinery model for production of cellulosic biofuels, integrated production, biomass co-firing, wood pellet technologies, high-efficiency combustion, supply-chains, infrastructure, biomass assessment, and the creation of jobs through emerging industries.

This briefing is open to the public and no reservations are required. For more information, contact Jetta Wong at 202-662-1885 ([email protected]) or Jesse Caputo at 202-662-1882 ([email protected])

Future of Biofuels

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:30:00 GMT

  • Adam Gardner – Guster guitarist, singer and founder, Reverb
  • Don Endres – CEO, VeraSun
  • Steve Gatto – CEO, Bioenergy LLC
  • Nathanael Greene – senior policy analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council

Nathanael Greene posts on the hearing:

As I said I would in my last post, I testified yesterday before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming as part of a hearing on biofuels. And Adam Gardner of Guster was sitting there on the witness panel with me. In fact he spoke first and probably the most eloquently.

Adam and his wife started Reverb, a non-profit that helps bands green their tours by helping them use biodiesel in their buses, offsetting carbon emissions, setting up educational eco-villages outside of concerts, and other cool stuff. During his oral testimony, he talked about about how people from band members to students were getting inspired and taking action but also looking to Congress for leadership. I would assume that the transcript of this statement and his written testimony will be available on the Committee web site (link above) soon, I would recommend them to anyone worried about “kids these days” or generally feeling pessimistic.

(If you’re feeling down, don’t read the latest Global Environmental Outlook from UNEP. Here’s a quote from the press release:

It salutes the world’s progress in tackling some relatively straightforward problems, with the environment now much closer to mainstream politics everywhere. But despite these advances, there remain the harder-to-manage issues, the “persistent” problems. Here, GEO-4 says: “There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favourable.”

In addition to Adam's testimony you could also read my recent post on optimism and environmentalism.)

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