May 4, 2009
Ethanol Will Test Obama’s Stance On Climate Change
President Barack Obama's promise to battle climate change will soon be tested as his administration faces questions on whether ethanol hurts or helps global warming.
The Environmental Protection Agency will soon issue new ethanol standards.
Two years ago, Congress ordered an increase in ethanol use, and asked the EPA to show that ethanol produced less pollution linked to climate change.
Environmentalists say the agency must factor in more than just the direct, heat-trapping pollution from ethanol and its production to show the substance's effect on climate.
They also want the EPA to factor "indirect" impacts on climate change from changes in land use as it is cleared to harvest ethanol crops.
Ethanol manufacturers don't believe these factors have been adequately quantified, and do not want the EPA to use them as the agency calculates ethanol's climate impact.
"It defies common sense that EPA would publish a proposed rule-making with harmful conclusions for biofuels based on incomplete science and inaccurate assumptions," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Grassley is one of 12 farm-state senators, both Democrats and Republicans, who asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to only assess direct emissions.
Ethanol is promoted as a "green" substitute for gasoline that can help the U.S. reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
Congress ordered increases in ethanol use in 2007, requiring refiners to blend 20 billion gallons with gasoline by 2015. The number is required to increase to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022.
In addition, lawmakers required that any fuel produced in plants built after 2007 must emit 20 percent less in greenhouse gases than gasoline if it comes from corn, and 60 percent less if from cellulosic crops, such as switchgrass and woodchips.
The inclusion of indirect emissions into the EPA's estimates would cause ethanol to fail the test.
According to Nathaniel Greene, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, failure wouldn't mean the end of ethanol.
Greene added that there are ways to produce advanced ethanols that would meet the land use climate impacts if the industry chose to adopt them.
Still, farm interests are pushing Congress to get the EPA to postpone consideration of the land-use impacts issue, saying the scientific data is uncertain.
The senators' letter warned the EPA that negatively linking ethanol to global warming "could seriously harm our U.S. biofuels growth strategy by introducing uncertainty and discouraging future investments."
Environmentalists believe there is enough evidence for the EPA to factor in indirect emissions.
Greene said the EPA's response will be "a test of our ability to follow sound science" even when it conflicts with interest groups.
Environmental groups are asking Obama to fulfill his promise "to make the U.S. a leader on climate change" and put science before politics.
Andora Andy, EPA spokeswoman, declined to comment on the upcoming proposal.
Interest groups believe it will come in days.
The White House Office of Management and Budget reviewed the EPA proposal last week.
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