Biofuel industry criticizes US EPA's triennial report

By Erin Voegele | July 05, 2018

On June 29, the U.S. EPA released its second report to Congress on the environmental and resource conservation impacts of the Renewable Fuel Standard program, as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act.

The report is a synthesis of peer reviewed scientific literature since 2011 on the impacts of biofuel use and production on air and water quality, water quantity, ecosystem health and biodiversity, soil quality, invasive species and international land use change.

Representatives of the biofuels industry criticized the EPA’s report for failing to compare the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of biofuel use with those of fossil fuels.

Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, pointed out that all forms of power result in some “negative” environmental impact, from solar arrays to minerals used in batteries. “Without an accurate scientific assessment, this study looks more like something the oil industry would draft than a federal report. Farmers would be insulted, if they weren’t already outraged by the EPA’s actions to undermine ethanol use,” she said.

“The EPA went out of its way to avoid citing data on the negative environmental impact of petroleum, leaving no way to deliver an apples-to-apples comparison showing the vast environmental benefits of American-made biofuels,” Skor continued. “Amazingly, the agency completely side-stepped carbon emissions, where the latest federal science from the USDA demonstrates that ethanol delivers a 43 percent benefit over fossil fuels—with a carbon reduction rising to 50 percent by 2022. At the same time, advanced and cellulosic biofuels can curb emissions by 100 percent or more, according to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. EPA even suggested that biofuels could be blamed for land use without any hard data, which would have shown that America’s farmers are producing more food and energy than ever before, and they are doing it on less cropland than was under cultivation in the 1930s. You cannot attribute a rise in land use to biofuels when land use isn’t rising.

“Thankfully, there are still accurate sources for environmental information, including the USDA, the Department of Energy, and clean energy leaders who have reported that ethanol helps keep our air free of volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, and smog-forming pollutants,” Skor said. “Even the EPA admitted that while they offered ‘insufficient evidence to support a conclusion on the overall direction or magnitude,’ it’s fairly clear that America’s environmental goals under the Renewable Fuel Standard ‘could be achieved with minimal environmental impacts if best practices were used and if technologies advanced,’ just as the industry is doing today.”

Johannes Escudero, CEO of the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, noted that the renewable natural gas (RNG) industry currently provides more than 95 percent of the cellulosic biofuel used under the RFs and stressed the environmental benefits of RNG.

“It’s worth noting that EPA acknowledges it did not consider lifecycle greenhouse gas emission impacts of biofuel for this report, which is incongruous considering that a biofuel’s eligibility for the RFS is evaluated by considering its lifecycle GHG benefits,” he said.  “EPA’s lifecycle analysis distinguishes renewable natural gas transportation fuel from all sources as among the biofuels with the most environmental benefit.”

“RNG production facilities capture methane emissions that would otherwise be flared or escape into the atmosphere from waste streams at landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, and anaerobic digesters and convert the methane into a fuel that is interchangeable with conventional natural gas,” Escudero said. “RNG is transported inter- and intra- state using existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure, and is used to fuel natural gas vehicles, such as municipal bus fleets and waste haulers.

“The production and utilization of RNG as a transportation fuel not only helps mitigate methane emissions, it also helps sequester carbon from certain sources,” he continued. “Replacing diesel engines with natural gas engines fueled by RNG achieves an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. RNG is already accepted in the marketplace and is a win-win if you are advocating for both a clean environment and clean economy today.”

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the EPA’s website.


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