EESI Statement: EPA Report on Biofuels’ Environmental Impacts Misses the Forest for the Tress

Source: By Jessie Stolark, EESI • Posted: Saturday, July 7, 2018

On June 30, EPA released its second triennial report to Congress, which outlines the state of research of any potential negative environmental impacts of biofuels production, including land use change, air quality, water quality, biodiversity, soil quality and invasive species from producing biofuels for the Renewable Fuel Standard. Despite the careful consideration of these topics within the report, EPA paints an incomplete picture, at best, as they fail to draw any comparisons between biofuels and their main competitor – petroleum.  While considering potential environmental impacts of renewable energies, one must consider the alternative as well.

It is very unfortunate that EPA chose not to consider the greenhouse gas as well as other environmental and health impacts of petroleum extraction and refining in their assessment.  Despite the overwhelming evidence that fossil fuels are the main threat to our climate, as well as causing irreparable harm to our water, air, and health, EPA decided not to draw any comparisons between the two fuel choices in their literature review.

While biofuels production must absolutely be done in a way that minimizes the impact to the environment, the plain truth is that most evidence-based research finds that biofuels are still a better choice for our environment, health, and air quality as compared to fossil fuels. Additionally, farmers are leading the charge to implement conservation practices and better manage land in the face of increasing demand for food, feed, fiber and biobased compounds, including biofuels.

While petroleum products continue to get dirtier and worse for the climate, the biofuels industry has continually improved the greenhouse gas footprint of conventional ethanol, which is capped at 15 billion gallons under the RFS. Additionally, cellulosic fuels, such as those sourced from crop residues, food wastes, and manures, have the potential to greatly reduce wastes and deal with methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas with as much as 36 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.  The volumes produced of these cellulosic fuels continue to grow year-over-year and represent a tremendous success of the RFS.

Biofuels continue to remain critical in meeting the goals outlined by the Paris Climate Accord. Even as we continue to electrify the passenger fleet, biofuels will remain a critical wedge in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the short-term. In sectors that are difficult to electrify, such as aviation and shipping, biofuels will likely play an increasingly important role going forward.  Additionally, if the economy is going to transition to renewable materials, we must displace an ever greater share of petroleum in chemicals and products. The bioeconomy will be a critical piece of that transition.

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