WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Feb. 3 announced steps aimed at accelerating the development of biofuels, and the Environmental Protection Agency issued its final rule setting a new renewable fuels standard.
The EPA projected that by 2022, the new fuel standard will increase farmers' incomes by $13 billion annually, help stabilize prices at the pump, and increase U.S. energy independence.
The EPA said that ethanol and other renewable fuels must represent 8.25 percent of total gasoline and diesel sales in 2010 to meet Congress' mandate that nearly 13 billion gallons of renewable fuels be produced this year. That's lower than last year's 10.21 percent renewable fuel standard that the EPA announced in November 2008, Reuters reported. These rules are separate from those regulating the amount of ethanol allowed to be blended into each gallon of gasoline, which is in most cases 10 percent.
The renewable fuels standard was mandated in the 2007 energy bill.
Unlike a previously proposed version of the rule, the final rule confirms that high-efficiency corn ethanol plants will meet the fuel standard. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said during the press conference that changes to the greenhouse gas modeling found that all biofuel classes meet the renewable fuel standard's greenhouse gas reduction goals. New calculations found that ethanol can have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline.
"On crop productivity, the data we used [previously] was not right," Jackson explained. In addition, the EPA's new methodology took a different approach in factoring in coproducts, and indirect land-use modeling took into account 120 nations -- well beyond the initial 40 nations included earlier. As a result, the numbers changed dramatically. Corn ethanol, based on the updated modeling, meets the 20-percent greenhouse gas reduction requirement for it to be considered a conventional biofuel. (An advanced biofuel must meet a 50-percent reduction requirement.)
The EPA's new findings and final renewable fuels standard drew both praise and criticism, particularly in regard to the analysis on indirect land use. Now that the EPA has finalized the rules, legislative efforts to thwart their implementation become more complicated.
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) said the EPA's final rule carried both good and bad news. He questioned the validity of the analysis about indirect land use. This concerns methods used to calculate emissions that result from land cleared abroad to grow more biofuels or food as a result of more U.S. land being used to grow feedstock crops for ethanol.
"To think that we can credibly measure the impact of international indirect land use is completely unrealistic, and I will continue to push for legislation that prevents unreliable methods and unfair standards from burdening the biofuels industry," Peterson said.
However, ethanol industry group Growth Energy issued a statement saying it was actually encouraged by the EPA's decision to recognize grain ethanol's merits in the quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"This is great news for our country, because what Administrator Jackson is saying is that ethanol has a significant opportunity to make our nation more energy independent, invigorate our economy and clean our skies," Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said. "As Administrator Jackson said herself, the best science proves that corn ethanol is a low-carbon fuel. She is to be commended with her conclusion in the Renewable Fuels Standard that ethanol plays an important role in securing our nation's energy future and creating jobs."
Senate Clean Air Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) praised the standard, saying it "struck the right balance" between support for biofuels and protecting the environment, the New York Times reported.
The Feb. 3 press conference also revealed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a new Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which will provide financial incentives to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who invest in and establish production of biomass for energy and other purposes. The program is aimed at reducing the financial risk to these entrepreneurs, helping kick-start this new industry and spurring the economic recovery of rural America.
In other news, Obama's Biofuels Interagency Working Group released its first report, titled "Growing America's Fuel," which lays out a strategy to advance the development and commercialization of a sustainable biofuels industry.
Obama also established a new interagency task force on carbon, capture and sequestration (CCS). CCS technologies aim to collect heat-trapping gases released during the burning of coal and to sequester them so that they do not contribute to climate change.