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Will the Biofuels Industry Hang Itself in the Climate Bill?

07/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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Last week I wrote about the danger of industry-backed changes to the Waxman-Markey climate bill that could, perversely, incentivize deforestation and increase global warming emissions.  Comparing the current bill language to the drastically weaker alternative advocated by Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, House leaders face a relatively clear choice between bioenergy done right and bioenergy done wrong.

A Washington Post editorial yesterday reinforces the importance of that choice, arguing that "Congress must ensure that it does not give biomass suppliers incentives to produce a fuel that is barely better -- or that is perhaps worse -- than fossil fuels."

Last week, I told EPA the following at their public hearing on their proposed rule to implement the RFS (here's the full draft of my testimony, which I mostly but not entirely stuck to):

The 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels demand alone will require an amount of biomass roughly equal to our annual average timber harvest for the past two decades (15.5 billion cubic feet of green wood).

Given current trends in deforestation around the world, the history of forest conversion by our timber industry, and even recent trends in CRP enrollment, it is impossible to imagine adding this much new demand for biomass to our lands and not creating new pressure for conversion of our natural forests and grasslands.

The laws of supply and demand are not laws of physics, but as capitalists, we believe they are the laws that govern our markets. Only your regulation can keep this new demand from having a huge negative impact.(emphasis added)

Now the biofuels industry is pushing to gut both the biomass sourcing safeguards and requirement for full accounting of the GHG emissions from biofuels. This means that while we force Americans to buy three and a half times more biofuels than they do today, we'll have no ability to protect our most sensitive forests or wildlife habitat and no ability to know if we're getting something that's actually better than gasoline or diesel.  Basically the biofuels industry wants to put the market in overdrive, take the safety railings off and then blind EPA. 

If they succeed, the renewable fuel standard should be suspended at least until the situation is fixed. It will be the worst irony if the biofuels industry succeeds in turning the biofuels backlash into its own coffin, but that's what they're pushing Peterson to do.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

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