The Environmental Protection Agency held a hearing Tuesday on its proposed rule to determine the greenhouse gas emissions performance of biofuels as part of the new Renewable Fuels Standard. The hearing centered on international indirect land use change, which would penalize American ethanol for greenhouse gas emissions that result from land use changes around the world.
According to the theory, corn used for ethanol displaces other crops, like soybeans. As the theory goes, this causes farmers in other countries, such as Brazil, to cut down rainforests to grow soybeans and fill the demand. A large number of groups testified against international indirect land use as being unfair, not science-based and going beyond the intent Congress wanted. Among those testifying on Tuesday was Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen.
"By expanding the Renewable Fuels Standard, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 capitalizes on the substantial benefits that renewable fuels offer," said Dinneen. "However, for the potential benefits of the RFS2 to be fully realized, it is imperative that the regulation is guided by sound science, transparent analysis and economic modeling that stands up to scrutiny."
Dineen said one of the concerns RFA had with the existing proposal was the lack of a mechanism to allow plants to demonstrate that they fit outside the boxes that EPA has established in terms of life-cycle analysis.
"There needs to be a mechanism for site specific technologies," Dinneen said. "No ethanol plant is created alike. They will all have different technologies; new technologies are emerging all the time, and a plant may not fit into the very prescriptive boxes that EPA has assigned."
Dr. Mark Stowers, Vice President of Science and Technology for POET, told the hearing the rule is flawed and has no basis in law or science. Stowers pointed out that even the EPA has strong reservations about using such indirect land use change models.
Stowers said indirect land use change theory uses speculative models and incorrect assumptions in an attempt to blame American farmers for deforestation in Brazil. Stowers also noted that the models have severe problems and limitations that have not been validated through appropriate sensitivity analysis.
Ray Gaesser, a soybean producer from Corning, Iowa and Vice President of the American Soybean Association told the EPA hearing that in the proposed rule, soy biodiesel land use factors were focused largely on deforestation in Brazil. However, Gaesser pointed out that Brazilian soy area increased most significantly in years prior to the existence of U.S. biodiesel production. In the periods from 2004-2008, when U.S. biodiesel production increased from 25 million gallons to 700 million gallons, Brazilian soy area has actually decreased.
"Land use change has been occurring long before any significant U.S. biofuel production began and is likely to continue regardless of U.S. biofuels policy," Gaesser said. "Clearly soy biodiesel is not driving land use change and any land use change that is occurring cannot be solely attributed to U.S. biofuels. Our assessment of the EPA Proposed Rule on RFS-2 implementation is that it is significantly flawed, and it does unnecessary harm to the competitive position of the U.S. soy biodiesel industry"
Also speaking at the EPA hearing was Manning Feraci, the Vice President of Federal Affairs for the National Biodiesel Board who voiced their concerns about the proposed RFS-2 rule.
"We recognize that statute requires the EPA to consider significant indirect emissions when calculating a renewable fuel's emission profile," said Feraci. "This does not require the EPA to rely on faulty data and to fabricate unrealistic scenarios that punish the U.S. biodiesel industry for wholly unrelated land use decisions in South America. Make no doubt about it, this is what the EPA's proposed rule does. Biodiesel produced from domestically produced vegetable oils are disqualified from the Biomass-based Diesel program, making it all but impossible to meet the volume goals established by statute."