RFS proposal would reduce greenhouse gas emissions — enviro report

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 30, 2014

U.S. EPA’s recent proposal to reduce this year’s corn ethanol blending mandate would result in lower greenhouse gas emissions, an environmental group said in a report released today.

The proposal to reduce the corn ethanol requirement by 1.4 billion gallons compared to the level set by 2007 statute would reduce emissions by the equivalent of taking 580,000 cars off the road, Environmental Working Group, or EWG, says in the report.The group urged EPA to maintain the proposal, which would also reduce this year’s mandate for advanced biofuel use by refiners.

“The Obama administration has a real opportunity to scale back the corn ethanol mandate and make a significant contribution in the fight against climate change,” said Emily Cassidy, EWG research analyst and co-author of the report. “As our research shows, corn-based ethanol is actually worse for the climate than regular gasoline.”

In all, EPA’s proposed rule would require refiners this year to blend 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels into petroleum-based fuels — less than the 18.15 billion gallons that Congress anticipated when it wrote the renewable fuel standard into statute in 2007. Of the proposed total, 13.01 billion gallons would come from corn ethanol and 2.2 billion gallons would come from advanced biofuels, a category that includes biodiesel and cellulosic biofuels.

EPA is expected any day now to send a final version of the rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has repeatedly said mandated levels may be increased in the final rule, but by how much is still unknown. The agency is aiming to release the final rule by early summer.

EWG, which has previously criticized ethanol for expanding U.S. corn production, said that the proposed reduction in the ethanol mandate would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The group used EPA data in the analysis but said that the agency has ignored emissions released by indirect land-use change. Indirect land-use change refers to the concept of emissions that are released when the production of food moves elsewhere in the world as biofuels are produced in the United States.

EWG said that corn ethanol’s greenhouse gas impact would be larger than gasoline if those emissions were fully accounted for.

The Renewable Fuels Association slammed the report, arguing that it “relies upon overblown and disputed assumptions of land use change.”

The notion that ethanol contributes more to climate change than petroleum gasoline is “simply preposterous, particularly when contrasted with the ever-rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from tar sands and fracking,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, in a statement.

A study by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade association of advanced biofuels groups, found that EPA’s proposal would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions because it also would reduce the mandates for advanced biofuels that are seen as cleaner than corn ethanol.

Based on a model developed by Argonne National Laboratory, BIO found that if U.S. EPA lowers the renewable fuel standard this year, the agency will be responsible for a net increase equivalent to putting 5.9 million cars on the road (Greenwire, March 26).

EWG said that the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s study underestimated land-use change emissions.