On May 16, 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is seeking comments regarding a recent petition to reduce the volume of renewable fuels required under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). In a letter sent to EPA on April 25, 2008, Governor Rick Perry of Texas requested that the EPA cut the RFS mandate for ethanol production in half (RFS mandate for 2008 is 9 billion gallons), citing recent economic impacts in Texas. In response, EPA will soon publish a Federal Register Notice opening a 30-day comment period on the request.
In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which established the RFS program, provisions were included enabling the EPA Administrator to suspend part of the RFS if its implementation would severely harm the economy or environment of a state, region, or the entire country. EPA must make a decision on a waiver request within 90 days of receiving it.
The Effects of Ethanol on Texas Food and Feed (PDF) — Study from Texas A&M University (April 2008)
If you have questions, please email or call Jetta Wong at jwong [at] eesi.org or (202) 662-1885.
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.
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.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus is contemplating changes to the ethanol tax credit, Social Security taxes and property taxes to help pay for a bill that would give farmers new tax breaks. . . .
Reducing the 51-cents-per-gallon ethanol tax credit by 5 cents would save about $854 million over 10 years. The provision would take effect only after annual ethanol production reached 7.5 billion gallons. Last year, about 6 billion gallons were made.
While the provision could irritate corn state lawmakers who say current law is helping boost rural economies, biofuel advocates say they won’t fight the provision.
“This is . . . the natural evolution of the industry,” said Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association.
At the same time, Jon Doggett of the National Corn Growers Association says he has “some real misgivings” about the proposal. Any change in the tax credit should be hashed out in the energy bill, he said.