Monday, February 11, 2008

Senator Inhofe And Studies Question New RFS Mandate

Feb 8: U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has posted information on the Committee website indicating that the EPW is "M.I.A." in the biofuels increase debate and that "New Studies Raise More Concern over Dramatic RFS Increase Passed by Congress in 2007."

Senator Inhofe's posting says that, "Barely a month after Congress passed the most onerous fuels mandates in history, two new studies have found that an increased use of biofuels may have a significant impact on the environment. But of course this isn’t surprising to those who actually applied a critical eye to the legislation before Congress imposed a nearly five-fold expansion of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) mandate [See WIMS 2/8/08]. The studies released this week are the latest to raise mounting questions surrounding ethanol’s effect on livestock feed prices, its economic sustainability, its transportation and infrastructure needs, its water usage and numerous other issues."

Inhofe cites the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog reports saying, “Ethanol loses more glitter after a new study shows it is worse for the environment than fossil fuels, reports the WSJ. Planting biofuel crops in grasslands or forests wipes out natural carbon sinks, prompting Grist to argue that the U.S. Congress 'blew it' with its recent biofuel mandate. The NYT reports that prominent scientists wrote the White House and Congress urging a rethink.”

On the Nature Conservancy website it reported that one of the new studies from The Nature Conservancy and the University of Minnesota finds that many biofuels -- seen by many as a potentially low-carbon energy source -- actually emit more greenhouse gases than the fossil fuels they aim to replace. According to the study, co-authored by Joe Fargione, a regional scientist for the Conservancy, “converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce 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 fossil fuels they replace."

Fargione said, "Previous conclusions that biofuels reduce greenhouse gases were based on incomplete analyses. They did not include the effect that biofuels have on the conversion of natural ecosystems to crops." Commenting on the new RFS standard, and responding to the question: But won't biofuels contribute to energy security?; Fargione said, "Unfortunately, not much. Congress recently passed a 36-billion-gallon biofuel mandate, but that will offset only 14 percent of projected gasoline usage by the year 2022 and would require about 60 million acres. After accounting for the energy needed to produce the ethanol, the true offset would only be 8-11 percent."

According to the information posted by Senator Inhofe, "Last year, while the Senate Energy Committee was the prime mover of the hastily increased RFS mandate, Senator Inhofe called for increased oversight by the EPW Committee and warned of the unintended consequences of such a drastic increase. Before 2007, the EPW Committee had held at least 13 hearings on the RFS program, most recently an oversight hearing in September 2006 which highlighted the implementation of this new federal RFS program. In 2007, the EPW Committee failed to hold one..."

The second study, Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change, by Princeton University researcher Timothy Searchinger indicates that, "Most prior studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gases because biofuels sequester carbon through the growth of the feedstock. These analyses have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forest and grassland to new cropland to replace the grain (or cropland) diverted to biofuels. Using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products."

On February 7, at the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Oversight Hearing on the recently-passed renewable fuel standard (RFS) contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA. H.R. 6, now Public Law No: 110-140 [
See WIMS 12/14/07]), both Chairman Bingaman and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) expressed concerns over the new RFS [See WIMS 2/8/08].

Access the information posted by Senator Inhofe (click here). Access a release on the report from the Nature Conservancy (click here). Access information on the report from the Nature Conservancy (click here). Access an abstract and further information on the Princeton report (click here). The Access the statement from Senator Bingaman (click here). Access the statement from Senator Domenici (click here). Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, statements and a webcast (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]