Clean air group warns Congress on ethanol mandate

22 October 2007 22:20  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--A US environmental group urged Congress on Monday to reconsider massive increases in biofuels production, warning that a similar but earlier European mandate is an abject failure that has harmed the environment.


The Clean Air Task Force said in a study issued today on Capitol Hill that Congress should give careful consideration to broad negative effects of the four-year-old European biofuels mandate before imposing a major new biofuels requirement in the US.


“Although plans to boost biofuel production and use may be well-intentioned, we ought to consider Europe’s experience before racing ahead,” said Jonathan Lewis, task force staff attorney and author of the report.


The EU issued a directive in 2003 mandating a 2% biofuels component in transportation fuels by 2005 and nearly 6% by 2010.


“The results are discouraging, to say the least,” said Lewis.  "The directive can already be described in terms of abject failure."


“Despite its foundation of good intentions, the 2003 directive has failed to meet its objectives and - even worse - is exacerbating some of the problems it was designed to solve,” he said.


“Countries throughout the continent fell short of the 2005 consumption target, and it is generally assumed they will miss the 2010 target as well,” Lewis said.  “But even at below-target production and consumption levels, the institutionalized demand for biofuels created by the directive has driven up food prices, contributed to deforestation in tropical countries and worsened global warming.”


Lewis said the task force study found that one result of the European biofuels mandate was that much production was outsourced to developing countries where operating costs were low and feedstock yields higher.  That led to what Lewis termed “a staggering rate of deforestation” as developing nations cleared forests to grow more biofuel feedstock.


“Due to tropical deforestation driven by the EU’s biofuels policy, the biofuels in use in Europe can be as much as 8 times worse than petroleum-based fuels when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.


He said that policymakers and even many in the scientific and agricultural sectors “do not account for greenhouse gas emissions and other global warming impacts that may be caused by changes in land use, food, fuel and materials markets and the impact on natural resources such as water”.


Lewis urged that Congress put off any increases to the US biofuels mandate until life-cycle analysis tools can be developed to fully measure the environmental, agricultural and energy impacts of biofuels production.


“Until we develop these tools to inform policy development, we should be extremely cautious about ramping up biofuels use so we don’t repeat mistakes made elsewhere,” he said.


Congress is now considering a major increase to the US biofuels mandate with legislation that would require production and use of some 36bn gallons of biofuels by 2022. 


The current US biofuels mandate, set in 2005, of 7.5bn gal/year of biofuels use by 2012 is likely to be met next year or early in 2009.  Current US bioethanol production is about 6bn gal/year.

By: Joe Kamalick
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