Indirect land use policies could negatively affect biodiesel

By Kris Bevill | January 01, 2009
In response to a discussion draft recently released by the California Air Resources Board, scientists and biofuels producers across the country denounced the board's plan to include indirect land use changes in its greenhouse gas emissions determinations for biofuels as part of the state's Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The consensus was that implementation of an indirect land use policy would be an unprecedented act and extremely detrimental to biofuels production.

Indirect land use changes as a result of biofuels production would mean that changes occurring to land anywhere in the world that can somehow be attributed toward U.S. fuel production should be included when determining the carbon footprint of that fuel. "It is very difficult to buy into the hysteria that biofuels are today causing Brazilian rainforest deforestation when exports of corn and soybeans have not dropped in recent years, and the prices of these commodities track up and down with oil prices, not biofuel demand," said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the New Fuels Alliance. According to members of the alliance, there are two major issues to consider before an indirect land use policy is discussed. The first is that regulations of this type have never before been enforced on any industry. The second is that there is no agreed upon way to determine indirect land use change. Therefore, a policy to include such changes would rely too heavily on assumptions made by staff members charged with creating the policy.

Bruce Dale, biobased technologies associate director at Michigan State University, agrees. The chemical engineering professor has been a longtime member of the scientific life cycle analysis community and said that indirect land use change is currently impossible to measure. Indirect changes are policy and market-related, whereas direct changes can be traced back to actual production, transportation and combustion of the fuels. Because there is no agreed upon model for indirect measurement, Dale said the proposed California policy would be a "horrible development" and could potentially derail the advancement of the biofuels industry. "It makes American fuel producers responsible not only for their own actions, but for the actions of people literally on the other side of the world," he said.

Although CARB's proposed plan may hinder growth of the biodiesel industry, it also calls for the increased use of renewable fuels to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Joe Gershen, vice president of marketing for Tellurian Biodiesel Inc. in California, said the policy could mean increased demand for biodiesel produced from sustainable feedstocks such as yellow grease, the feedstock used at Tellurian's production facility.

It will be months before the outcome of CARB's proposal is determined. Regulations for the Low Carbon Fuel Standard will be considered by the board in March. However, final regulations won't become effective until 2010, according to CARB spokesman Stanley Young.

In addition to California's proposal, the U.S. EPA is considering the inclusion of indirect land use changes in its implementation of the renewable fuels standard enacted in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007. At press time, a proposal hadn't been issued for public comment as is required of the EPA before any ruling can be made. The agency isn't planning to finalize regulations for the new renewable fuels standard until mid-2009.
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