If the situation wasn't so serious, it would almost be funny.
The U.S. economy, by any measurement, is in a heckuva mess. The country has lost 6 million non-farm jobs since 2007. On top of that, gasoline prices have begun moving up again as oil companies take advantage of increased summer driving.
So someone at the Environmental Protection Agency has decided this country's energy future should be held hostage to Brazilian subsistence farmers who might want to whack down a few more acres of Amazon rainforest. Farm and alternative fuel representatives tried to make nice with EPA during two days of hearings on its Proposed Rule for Changes to Renewable Fuel Standard Program June 8 and 9. But their frustration with the agency's fixation on “indirect land use change” showed through at times.
The Renewable Fuels Association's Bob Dinneen said EPA's lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis of biofuels, including emissions from ILUC, is puzzling at best. “No evidence exists biofuel production in the U.S. has influence over land use decisions in other countries, and we have deep concerns over EPA's methodology,” he said. “According to EPA's own analysis, typical corn ethanol reduces GHGs 61 percent compared to gasoline when all the emissions directly related to the supply chain are counted. But when ‘guesstimated’ international indirect land use change emissions are tacked on, EPA suggests that same gallon of ethanol only offers a 16 percent GHG reduction.”
One problem is a lack of a surefire way of measuring those effects. Dinneen says EPA is using nine separate models to conduct its full fuel cycle analysis, “many of which were not initially designed to conduct this type of analysis or work together.
The American Soybean Association was even blunter in its characterization of the calculations. “Our assessment is it is significantly flawed and does unnecessary harm to the competitive position of the U.S. soy biodiesel industry,” said ASA's Ray Gaesser.
Gaesser, a farmer from Iowa, said the facts are the Brazilian soybean area had its big increase before the U.S. began producing significant amounts of soy biodiesel in 2004. “Since then, Brazilian soy area has actually decreased.”
The ILUC controversy reminds you of an earlier flap in which EPA reportedly was proposing charging fees for bovine gas emissions. Scientists believe those emissions, which EPA subsequently denied it was considering taxing, are harmful to the environment. (It also reminds of the cotton case brought by Brazil in the WTO, but that's another story.)
The rumors came from a report EPA submitted after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases from motor vehicles amounted to air pollution. While agency officials said only a small part of the report dealt with livestock, Farm Bureau leaders said it could require farms or ranches with minimal numbers of animals to pay fees of $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 per hog.
Those sound similar to some of the taxes and fees included in the American Clean Energy and Security Act recently passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Farm groups have also spent considerable time trying to improve the legislation's impact on agriculture for the better. Episodes like these smack of someone with an agenda trying to manipulate policy by making the numbers fit their particular vision. But who in the environmental community would ever do something like that?