Brazilian producers urge Congress to maintain ethanol trade

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013

Facing criticism in recent weeks from the U.S. ethanol industry and lawmakers, Brazilian sugar cane ethanol producers are touting their product and urging Congress to maintain its inclusion in the renewable fuel standard.

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) yesterday told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that sugarcane ethanol from Brazil significantly reduces emissions compared with petroleum-based gasoline. The organization, whose members are responsible for more than half of all ethanol production in Brazil, said that it believed sugarcane ethanol was the most efficient biofuel available on the market today.

“The sugar cane ethanol produced by UNICA’s members provides significant GHG emissions reductions when compared to a gasoline baseline, and we are proud of the role that Brazilian sugar cane has played thus far in achieving the objectives and mandates of the RFS program,” the trade association wrote in a letter in response to several questions on the renewable fuel standard posed by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

The lawmakers are seeking input in preparation for a series of summer hearings on the RFS. In their most recent paper, the leaders of the committee asked for information on the environmental impacts of the standard, which mandates yearly levels of conventional ethanol and advanced biofuel.

UNICA’s defense of Brazilian sugar cane ethanol comes as the U.S. ethanol industry is putting pressure on U.S. EPA to reduce its overall advanced biofuel targets to discourage the import of Brazilian ethanol (Greenwire, April 9).

EPA says sugarcane ethanol achieves the greenhouse gas reductions required of advanced biofuels under the RFS, while corn ethanol produced in the United States does not. According to the U.S. ethanol industry, EPA’s approval of Brazilian ethanol has led to an inefficient “ethanol shuffle” under which Brazil exports sugarcane ethanol to the United States to meet the advanced biofuel targets, while American producers export conventional ethanol back to Brazil to replace the lost sugarcane fuel.

“This ‘ethanol shuffle’ is not only economically absurd, but as EPA acknowledges, it also ‘… engenders additional transport-related emissions,'” the U.S. Renewable Fuels Association told EPA recently.

A pair of lawmakers last week introduced legislation, the “Foreign Fuels Reduction Act,” S. 977, to compel EPA to address the issue (Greenwire, May 17).

This year, EPA estimates that the United States will need to import 666 million gallons of sugar cane ethanol from Brazil in order to meet its proposed advanced biofuel targets.

UNICA defended the ethanol trade to Upton and Waxman.

EPA already takes into account transportation-related emissions in its calculations of greenhouse gas emissions for sugar cane ethanol, UNICA told Energy and Commerce members. Even when including those emissions, the agency found that sugar cane ethanol from Brazil reduces greenhouse gas emission by more than 60 percent compared with petroleum-based gasoline.

The association also said that its sugar cane ethanol industry uses 0.5 percent of Brazil’s land.

“No matter how interesting it may be as an abstract policy matter, it would be inappropriate to attribute any unforeseen environmental challenges associated with two-way ethanol trade to the RFS program,” UNICA wrote.

UNICA is calling on Congress to maintain the inclusion of foreign sugarcane ethanol in the RFS. It also urged EPA to reduce requirements that foreign ethanol producers prove that their feedstocks meet the definition of renewable biomass on a farm-by-farm basis; EPA allows domestic producers to show compliance on an aggregate level.

“EPA’s implementing regulations impose onerous requirements on foreign renewable fuel producers,” UNICA said.

In their response to Upton and Waxman, U.S. ethanol producers did not focus on Brazil but said that EPA’s greenhouse gas life-cycle analysis was flawed. They criticized EPA’s inclusion of indirect land-use changes in foreign nations in the agency’s calculations of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the agency’s reliance on 2005 figures of petroleum-based gasoline emissions.

“EPA has so far failed to follow through on its commitment to update its analysis to reflect the most current data and studies, despite the breadth of new information available,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “This failure has resulted in the ongoing mischaracterization of ethanol’s actual GHG impacts.”