ATA: biodiesel needs to be cheaper, better for increased use

By Nicholas Zeman | November 20, 2009
When several members of the American Trucking Association won SmartWay excellence awards from the U.S. EPA, Biodiesel Magazine called the ATA to see how much biodiesel figured into ATA-member fleet operators' emissions reduction strategies. "Little if any," said Rich Moskowitz, spokesman for the ATA. "Some emissions reduction practices actually decrease expenses, but biodiesel can increase them. Most of the effective methods are not related to the use of biodiesel."

ATA says that it does officially support the voluntary use of up to 5 percent biodiesel that passes ASTM D975, the diesel fuel quality standard. "We are adamantly opposed to state boutique fuel mandates," Moskowitz said.

Incorporating biodiesel can increase the cost of trucking operations, but Moskowitz pointed out that depending on the EPA's final assessment, methyl esters might actually increase the carbon footprint of a fleet too. "According to life-cycle analysis and indirect land use change, biodiesel actually has a higher carbon footprint than petrol diesel," he said. "If and when the cap-and-trade system is implemented it could make biodiesel dead-on-arrival. It all depends on how EPA ultimately decides on the carbon footprint of biodiesel."

The ATA put out a press release on Oct. 30 with the headline, "Climate Change Legislation Will Increase Diesel Prices, Hurt Consumers." The cap-and-trade system outlined by the Waxman-Markey bill currently under review by Congress requires oil refineries to cover their direct refining operations and the amount of carbon produced by downstream combustion of the fuels. "If EPA decides biodiesel has a higher footprint than petroleum, then refiners have no incentive to blend biodiesel," Moskowitz said. "But if EPA says the biodiesel footprint is lower, then refiners will more than likely be using more of it. If biodiesel is a low-cost alternative, refiners wouldn't have to purchase as many allowances."

The cost of obtaining credit allowances will be passed on to fuel consumers in the form of higher prices, Barbara Windsor, vice chair of the ATA, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Oct. 29. "A major petroleum supplier to the trucking industry has advised that diesel fuel costs could rise up to 88 cents," she said.

Windsor's testimony outlined alternative methods of reducing carbon emissions by the trucking industry in a 10-year sustainability plan, which included decreased idling, speed limit governance at 65 miles per hour and better highway infrastructure to relieve congestion. Biodiesel, however, received no specific mention in the ATA's plan, whose feelings about the renewable fuel remain relatively lukewarm-mostly because of price and quality issues. "The latest report from NREL said that 10 percent of biodiesel samples failed quality parameters compared to 60 percent the year before, so that's pretty incredible progress that the industry has made in one year," Moskowitz said. "A 10 percent failure rate is still completely unacceptable in this business."
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