The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) handed a victory to ethanol producers Wednesday by issuing final regulations that conclude corn-based fuels will meet greenhouse gas standards imposed under a 2007 energy law.
The release of the final regulations follows a fierce campaign by ethanol companies that alleged 2009 draft rules unfairly found that large volumes of ethanol production would not meet targets in the statute for reducing greenhouse gases.
The statute expanded the national biofuels use mandate to reach 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. If the EPA had ruled that corn-based fuels did not meet their emissions target, the fuels could have been frozen out of the market.
The issue has been vital to the ethanol lobby, which feared that an adverse finding could stymie investment and tarnish the fuel’s image.
However, the nation’s current ethanol production — about 12 billion gallons annually — was exempted from the law’s emissions mandate.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Monday denied the agency had bent to pressure, instead arguing that EPA employed better modeling when crafting the final regulations.
“We have followed the science,” she told reporters on a conference call. “Our models have become more sophisticated. We have accrued better data.”
The new rules, which implement the expanded fuels mandate, are not a complete victory for ethanol lobbyists, who along with several farm-state lawmakers object to the way EPA measures the carbon footprint of biofuels.
Specifically, they’re upset that EPA didn’t give up on weighing “international indirect land use changes” as part of emissions calculations. The phrase refers to emissions from clearing grasslands and forests in other countries for croplands, in order to compensate for increasing use of U.S. corn and soybeans for making fuels.
“We will always be concerned about indirect land use,” said Gen. Wesley Clark, a former presidential candidate who now leads the ethanol industry trade group Growth Energy.
“Why should American farmers be penalized for the problems in the Brazilian rainforest? That’s the Brazilian government’s issue and maybe the United Nations’,” he said in an interview before EPA’s rules were released. “It is so farfetched. I know it comes out of an academic model, but it is just an academic model, and the model is not even based on current facts.”
The industry alleges the science behind the land-use emissions measurements is immature and inaccurate, while environmentalists say such calculations are vital to ensuring federal support for ethanol doesn’t actually worsen climate change.
Nathanael Greene of the Natural Resources Defense Council also praised the measure because EPA did not back away from considering the land-use emissions, even though it came up with numbers friendlier to the industry with the final rule.
“We finally have a tool that we can use to hold the industry accountable, to reward the people that are doing a better job and keep the folks that are doing a really bad job out,” said Greene, the group’s director of renewable energy policy.
EPA said several factors went into the revised emissions calculations. For instance, the agency said that better satellite data allowed more precise assessments of the types of land converted internationally.
The battle over the land use emissions is hardly over. Two senior House Democrats — Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (Mo.) — introduced a bill this week that would block EPA from considering the land-use changes.