Corn ethanol was given a reprieve today when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its proposed rule for implementation of the Renewable Fuels Standard or RFS2 that includes calculations of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for all fuels. The RFS was signed into law as part of the Energy and Independence Act of 2007 which limits the maximum amount of corn ethanol to 15 billion gallons of the required 36 billion gallons by 2022.
There was palpable concern among corn ethanol proponents leading up to the ruling due to the controversy surrounding Indirect Land Use as well as the passing of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) last week by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which was not favorable for corn ethanol.
It appears that the federal EPA is not in agreement with CARB on exactly how much greenhouse gases are reduced for biofuels as compared to gasoline.
The EPA as well as CARB measured life cycle greenhouse gas emissions related to the production and use of ethanol. Ethanol has different measurements based on feedstock and production. The RFS ruling today concluded that grain-based ethanol reduces direct GHG emissions by more than 60 percent compared to gasoline. Where the controversy continues is how to measure indirect GHG emissions and ethanol proponents argue that there is not enough scientific data to create legislation based on indirect land use and champions additional research on the issue.
There is also talk that creating too much emphasis on Indirect Land Use will delay or even halt the development of advanced biofuels. And environmental organizations are getting into the ring as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) just launched its “better biofuels” campaign aimed at DC policy makers.
Bob Dinneen, the President and CEO of the longest standing biofuels organization, Renewable Fuels Association, stated, “EPA has reconfirmed the fact that when directly compared to gasoline, ethanol significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This apples-to-apples comparison reaffirms the substantial greenhouse gas reductions offered by ethanol calculated in numerous studies including one done recently for the International Energy Agency.”
Both the RFS as well as LCFS set specific goals or carbon intensity levels for all fuels. According to the RFS, corn starch ethanol must reduce GHG’s by 20%, advanced biofuels and biodiesel by 50%, and cellulose-based ethanol by 60% when compared to gasoline.
Last week, with concern mounting on how closely the EPA would follow the levels set out in the LCFS, U.S. Senator John Thune introduced a bill designed to strengthen the Renewable Fuels Standard and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from using inaccurate indirect land use models to discredit the positive environmental impacts of ethanol. He noted that it was imperative that America’s goals to reduce emissions and dependence on foreign oil cannot be halted by creating regulations that are detrimental to the continued development of the biofuels industry.
It will be interesting to see if the bill continues forward in light of the favorable ruling today and if CARB will stick to its LCFS regulation or be forced to reconsider based on today’s RFS ruling.