August 10, 2009
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday released independent peer review for proposed biofuel regulations that would require ethanol producers to meet tougher lifecycle assessments for greenhouse gas emissions.
A four-person review panel concluded that the EPA did a fair job in estimating the role the U.S. biofuel industry would play in increasing emissions overseas. Although at least one reviewer question whether current modeling capabilities are adequate for generating regulations.
Ultimately, the review is likely to do little to settle the dispute between agriculture interests and those who want to see tougher standards for corn-ethanol.
The ethanol industry objected to the rule proposed in May that would take into account land-use changes in other parts of the world resulting from the shift of U.S. agriculture land to production of ethanol feedstocks. The land-use provision suggests that the transfer of forest land to agriculture land should be accounted for in the lifecycle greenhouse gas footprint associated with the production of ethanol.
The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) said the EPA stacked the deck against the ethanol industry, by selecting peer reviewers known for their anti-ethanol views. In addition, RFA said the modeling method used to analyze indirect land use change cannot be reproduced by stakeholders outside the EPA.
First-generation ethanol produced from corn is considered by many to be a poor substitute for gasoline, because it requires the use of food crops, contributes to environmental degradation, and does not significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Congress passed a biofuel mandate in 2007, calling for increased blending of 36 billion gallons of ethanol into gasoline by 2022. The law states that corn-based ethanol must emit 20% less greenhouse gas than gasoline.
Under the law, the EPA is required to write a biofuels rule that determines how ethanol emissions are calculated. However, the rule is proving to be a sticking point, as Democratic legislators representing agriculture interests seek to protect midwest corn growers.
Democratic Representatives in the House withheld support for the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, until it included a provision delaying the EPA's land-use accounting method by five years.
Representative Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who is the House Agriculture Committee chairman, had a major hand in that maneuvering. On Friday he said the peer review proved EPA used "incomplete and unreliable models" to link farming decisions overseas and U.S. biofuel output.
The EPA wants to implement the new biofuel regulations this year.