Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ag Committee Chair Peterson Won't Support Climate Bill

May 6: Just as the House Energy & Commerce Committee is engaged in a very fragile political negotiation on the Waxman-Markey draft American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) and the President has urged House Democrats to work toward a compromise bill [See WIMS 5/6/09], House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) has dealt what could be a crushing blow to the negotiations.

At the first legislative hearing on President Obama's biofuels initiatives and proposed Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), Peterson became so distraught that he vowed not to support "any kind of climate change bill." Other Democrats including Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota and Tim Holden, Pennsylvania said they and others agreed with Peterson.

In further comments (not necessarily in order), Peterson said, "I want this message sent back down the street. I will not support any climate change bill. . . You are going to kill off the biofuels industry before it gets started. You are in bed with the oil industry. . . If they think anyone is going to invest in next-generation ethanol, given what's going on, they are kidding themselves. . . By the time it gets down to the agency, what the hell is going to come out of it? ... This thing is out of control. . . I don't care. Even if you fix this. I don't trust anybody anymore . . . This thing is out of control, I've had it."

The uproar occurred at a hearing of the Agriculture Committee, Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research, Chaired by Representative Holden. The hearing was held to review the impact of the indirect land use and renewable biomass provisions in the renewable fuel standard. Witnesses from the Administration included: Dr. Joe Glauber, Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Ms. Margo Oge, Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality, U.S. EPA. Other witnesses included representatives of: the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University; Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture; New Fuels Alliance; National Biodiesel Board; Platinum Ethanol; and the American Forest Foundation.

USDA testified that, "The feedstock limitations associated with the exclusion of some sources of renewable biomass as defined in [Energy Security and Independence Act of 2007 (EISA)] -- particularly with respect to cellulosic materials from both private and public forest lands-may serve to limit the opportunity to replace fossil fuels. In the future, ethanol produced from cellulosic sources, including wood biomass, has the potential to cut life cycle GHG emissions by up to 86 percent relative to gasoline (Wang et al. 2007)." USDA testified further on how biofuel production affects land use in the United States and the rest of the world, and will discuss what is meant by emissions associated with land use change.

EPA testified that the Administrator had signed a notice of proposed rulemaking for the Renewable Fuel Standard included in EISA, commonly called "RFS2." The Agency said the proposed rule "provides EPA an opportunity to present our work to the public and formally incorporate the advice and input we will receive over the coming months." EPA said, "A central aspect of the RFS2 program is its focus on the lifecycle greenhouse gas impact of renewable fuels. EISA created the first U.S. mandatory lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction thresholds for renewable fuels used in the U.S. . .

"EPA, working with experts from across the Federal government, including experts from the Departments of Agriculture and Energy as well as outside experts, has spent the last year and a half creating a robust and scientifically supported methodology that identifies direct and indirect emissions, including those resulting from international land use change. This methodology meets our statutory obligations under EISA. Just as importantly, it recognizes that to account for the climate-related effects of renewable fuels, the direct emissions associated with fuel production and combustion as well as the indirect emissions must be taken into account. . ."

EPA said, ". . .we understand that some have concerns that the state of the science regarding the assessment of GHG emissions related to international land changes is so immature, and potentially subject to error, that EPA should disregard or deemphasize such emissions, and calculate renewable fuel lifecycle GHG emissions assuming that there are no GHG emissions associated with predicted international land use changes. We believe such an approach would introduce far more error into lifecycle GHG assessment than the EPA proposal, which is based on reasoned application of the best available science and data. The result of disregarding land use changes would be to ignore the developing science in this area, and to overstate, perhaps dramatically, the GHG benefits of renewable fuels. . ."

The environmental organization, Friends of the Earth (FOE) issued a release on the meeting calling Chairman Peterson's comments an "embarrassing hissy fit." FOE said, "It’s pretty stunning that less than two years ago, Peterson voted for the law requiring the EPA to account for this pollution, but he apparently now wants the EPA to break the law he voted for. The EPA indicated yesterday that it plans to follow that law instead of doing Peterson’s bidding, so now he throws a temper tantrum. It’s embarrassing.”

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) indicated when the new RFS proposed rule was announced that it would "engage EPA. . . over the issue of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions related to the production and use of ethanol." RFA said, "EPA has also attempted to calculate indirect emissions that occur as a result of purported land use changes and other factors occurring domestically as well as internationally. The controversial notion of indirect land use changes impacts, including those happening outside the U.S., are thought to greatly reduce ethanol’s GHG benefit. The RFA welcomes the debate over these issues." RFA has prepared a 5-page document entitled, Understanding the International Indirect Land Use Penalty on Biofuels.

In a release posted on May 7, Subcommittee Chairman Tim Holden of Pennsylvania said, “We are very upset with the path EPA has taken us down and sent that message back loud and clear in today’s hearing. If we continue with these provisions in EISA, we will not only harm the biofuels industry but also shortchange a large part of the country before we even get started. We need to expand the reach of biofuels, not hamper the farmer and forest owner.” Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said, “The arbitrary restrictions in the renewable fuel standard will limit the potential biomass to meet the renewable fuels mandate. I am in favor of the development of advanced renewable fuels, but more importantly I am in favor of developing a policy that allows the market to develop next generation renewable energy." The Subcommittee indicated, "The provisions discussed today were last minute additions to EISA that were never debated, and members of the Committee have worked to get them changed for the past two years."

Access various media reports on Chairman Peterson's comments (
click here); (click here); and (click here). Access the Subcommittee hearing website and link to all testimony (click here). Access a release from Friends of the Earth release (click here). Access more information from RFA including their release and the document referenced above (click here). Access the Subcommittee release (click here).