Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Politics of Energy #17 - Ag interests challenge EPA on global biofuels damage

By Bill Lambrecht
Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Midwest farmers argue that the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t know beans about farming.

That’s essentially what the St. Louis-based American Soybean Association contends in an offensive opened this week aimed at persuading the EPA to back off proposed new rules that could hamstring production of soy-made biodiesel as part of the nation’s drive to curb climate change.

The St. Louis trade group issued a “national call-to-action for grassroots activism” asking farmers and their allies to weigh in before an EPA public comment period expires next month.
The issue is complex: The EPA has proposed new rules that factor in damage that American biofuels production inflicts in faraway lands like Brazil and Malaysia, where carbon-filled forests are going up in smoke.

The “indirect land use” provisions are part of new rules to develop next-generation biofuels, including ethanol made from something other than corn.

The EPA is relying on studies showing that cultivation of new croplands to fill gaps in the commodities market when people farm for fuel rather than food has destructive effects around the world.

The issue is more than academic: The Renewable Fuel Standard requires that alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel reduce pollution of heat-trapping gasses over the long-term in order to qualify for guaranteed markets granted by Congress.

Corn-growers breathed easier when the EPA granted corn-made ethanol exemptions from the new rules over the next several years. But the soybean growers and the Jefferson City-based National Biodiesel Board weren’t so fortunate.

“The government is supposed to be promoting the use of renewable fuels, not making it more difficult for renewable fuels to get a start,” soybean industry spokesman Bob Callanan told us when we phoned him.

In their new grassroots campaign, the ag interests want the EPA to rewrite the proposed rules — and give biodiesel a break.

(Editor's Note: Driven by the growth of biodiesel, soybean prices are up: Today’s Crop Farmer - Sales of soybeans ($5.50 a bushel) $177,000; Tomorrow’s Energy Farmer - Sales of soybeans ($6.90 a bushel) $220,800)

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