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Enviros to EPA: don't let politics trump science on biofuels

Nathanael Greene

Posted November 10, 2008

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As I mentioned in my post over the weekend, a handful of environmental and conservation groups sent a letter [link fixed] to EPA today calling on the agency to comply with the letter of the law and protect the environment by letting science, instead of politics, guide the rulemaking to implement the renewable fuel standard. The letter cc's the Secretary of Agriculture since, perhaps unsurprisingly, the bulk of the political back pressure comes from that quarter.

Look for more scientists and economists to join the fray soon on the side of using the best available science to guide our actions rather than letting politics run amok. Unfortunately, even after EPA acts, you can be sure that some will feel tempted to try to get Congress to do an end-run around EPA's process.

My sincere hope, though, is that soon leaders in the advanced biofuels industry will decide to get proactively and productively engaged in the debate about how to accurately measure the lifecycle GHG emissions from biofuels. I think the confidence that sort of message would send investors (not to mention the certainty wrapping up EPA and California's rule quickly would provide) is critical to the industry at this point.

Once the industry is back at the table, my hope is that they will focus on three critical parts of the lifecycle methodology: the scope of economically induced emissions, the inputs and models used for direct and indirect emissions, and the treatment of these emissions over time. More generally, I think there could be lots of consensus over the need for EPA (and CARB) to carefully analyze the most promising advanced sources of biomass. Understandably, the advanced biofuels industry is worried that the agencies will just cut and paste corn ethanol lifecycle numbers onto even the industry's innovative options. Developing detailed and well researched numbers for a "Chinese menu" of most promising feedstocks, land-types, management practices, and conversion technologies would give the industry options and clear guidance on paths forward.

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Dr. James SingmasterNov 11 2008 02:01 AM

I ask if anyone at NRDC is aware of 5 reports over the past year on different catalysts to split using sunlight energy to get hydrogen, one report got major coverage in Science and Revkin's Dotearth blog a few months ago. Another was from a Chinese group so China may soon become the clean energy leader, while we piddle around with money wasted on the useless biofuels concept. Why have NRDC, ED, UCS, Sierra Club and other environmental groups stopped calling for any action to get hydrogen as the clean fuel.
Why are biofuels useless? Because they are just recycling carbon dioxide removing not one carbon from the 35% and growing overload of that gas in the atmosphere.
We should also be recognizing that the massive never-ending messes of organic wastes are getting out of hand as witnessed by EPA's calling for a conference in Dec on risks of drugs in drinking water and a recent NAS report on major pollution problems from storm drain outflows. I have sent various NRDC staffers a proposal to use pyrolysis on these messes to destroy germs, toxics and drugs in them while forming inert charcoal to actually get some of that gas removed from recycling.
Your Exec. Dir. P. Lehner back on July 11 posted a concern about wastes, but NRDC seems not to have heeded it. If we do not get control of those messes soon, they will bury us before global warming's effects do. NRDC should get biofuels killed and get action on these messes. Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

Kendall LinzeeNov 11 2008 03:14 PM

I have yet to see anyone who has publicy criticized bio-fuels, speak with specific data, as to what is actually coming out the tail pipe of a combustion engine running on Ethanol.
While Hydrogen fuel cells, Plug-in Hybrids etc. are great ideas, our world is not currently running on them. Many combustion engines will convert successfully to E-85. One auto company has a diesel engine that gets 47 mpg on Ethanol. Unfortunately they also, say nothing detailed about emissions.?? It appears that the outrage over the problems with corn-based ethanol, has created a harmful pessimism, not helpful. Unless there is a specific focus, on what might carry over,to the advanced industry. Is first generation really that bad? OK specifically, How Bad ? What would make it cleaner. Not generally speaking, so I can write a cool article for Science magazine.
My experience in Auto repair has revealed that alot more can be done, to get worn catalytic converters off the road. Never mind what the CARB's overall perspective is on bio-fuels.
My resources are limited at best, but out of a desire to do SOMETHING. I ran my 20 year old car on 30% E-85 for 3 to 4 months. Then went to "Smog-check" CO2 was down 12%, HCs were a third lower, CO was almost non existent, NOX were off the chart unfortunately. Ethanol likes to run really lean in a cold engine. Too much O2, fried what was left of my 20 year old cat. The conversion kit, that adjusts fuel delivery is not expensive at all. The problem is that CARB has a very unreasonable and costly certification process, so the manufacturer cannot legally ship one to me. God knows what the state might fine me, if they should find one under my hood.
Meanwhile I can purchase numerous products legally, to enhance my car's bhp performance and ability to consume more petroleum. Worked for a while at a veggie oil, diesel engine, conversion outfit. Where concern over what was really coming out the tail pipe, was also not a priority. Even the media, including NBC, failed to ask this guy, what the emissions were.
Yeah science would be great. Stepped up use of Pyrolisis too.

vind och krypgrund avfuktareNov 18 2008 10:36 AM

I think regulation on how to calculate GHGs on a life cycle basis would necessarily be a less than sharp sword in the environmental battle. Writing such regulation is almost impossible.

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