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NRDC runs biofuels ads: if we're going to use them, let's do it right

Nathanael Greene

Posted April 28, 2009

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Starting today, we're running a series of print and internet ads trying to sharpen the distinction between biofuels done right and biofuels done wrong.


The animated web versions of the ads are running on the front page of today. Check'em out! They'll also be in the Congressional Daily am print version today, the Congressional Quarterly Today print version on 4/29, and Politico print version on 4/29.

The ads direct people to our biofuels page on NRDC's web site. This page in turn encourages folks to take action to help get biofuels right and to check out our more detailed discussion of the potential and challenges for bioenergy on our new renewables section of the website, which I wrote about yesterday.

Why now? Because the debate about what kind of energy and environmental future we will have is happening now. Between the rules to implement the RFS2, implementation of the stimulus package, and the broader debate about climate policy, right now our country is deciding whether advanced biofuels will help us build green jobs, a stronger economy and a safer economy or divert investment to fuels that do more harm than good.

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George TesserisApr 28 2009 03:34 PM

I'm disappointed that you are taking a pro-biofuels stance. The average person uses 100W of food power and 2300W of fuel power per day. Ergo, it would take 23 times the earth's current agricultural capacity to meet all our energy needs through biomass. So while biomass cannot possibly help us to make a dent in energy security, we could very easily end up on a slippery slope to famine and ecological collapse.

Are taking the position that you can't change govt policy and therefore are working to mitigate the negative effects of biofuels? You can bet on this: biofuels lobbyists will immediately jump on your support as proof that what they're doing is environmentally sound.

I would like to understand your position.

Andy BaterApr 28 2009 06:13 PM

Good looking advertisements and the renewables section of the NRDC site is well done too. Reading through some of the pages I found myself agreeing more than disagreeing on most points.

An example of a point I disagree on though is any reluctance on opening up national forests for biomass collection. It seems far better to me to sustainably manage combustible material levels than to spend tax dollars fighting forest fires.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.Apr 28 2009 07:08 PM

George Tesseris and Nathaniel Greene,

George, I think your comment is appropriate, and it seems unclear to me why the biofuels business is thought to be headed right.

I look at the two pictures of happy green stuff and I see, one way or the other, cropland that could be produceing food. It might not be as bad as it turned out to be for the corn ethanol business, but I still find this questionable.

I also see the wood chip source for cellulosic ethanol as highly problematic in the long run, since the wood chips lying around will be quickly used up to fuel our fleet of SUVs. And then the trees will get mowed down, all the way north to the Arctic.

harrison pettitApr 29 2009 02:06 PM

The exaggerated comparison in this ad only contributes to a destructive polemic where the only winners are the oil companies. As NRDC knows, these are complex issues full of nuance, not stark contrasts. Moving from imported fossil fuels to alternatives including all kinds of biofuels is inherently disruptive and will involve trade-offs. There is no perfect fuel. Building a funding and support base around a campaign that vilifies and dumbs-down the debate is a cheap gimmick that undermines the hard work and compromise necessary to make real progress. Plus, the oil companies love it when renewables are pitted against each other. Lets grow-up and move the ball forward instead of staging a destructive contest of "who is the most pure."

RonaldoMay 10 2009 04:42 AM

Harrison Pettit's comment is about as ironic as one can get. Dumbing down the debate? Have a look at the Renewable Fuels Association web site, Mr. Pettit -- or those of any number of pro-ethanol lobby groups. You can't get dumber than those.

And as for the biofuel lobby's myth that any criticism of biofuels plays into the hands of the oil companies, such a claim derives from the larger myth that the oil companies are against biofuels. Clearly, that is not the case. Oil companies are in the business of selling liquid fuels. The only biofuels they don't like are the ones they don't yet control. But that situation is changing fast. Now that the prices of ethanol plants are depressed, oil companies are buying them up at $0.25 on the dollar. Even before that, they were among the leading investors in 2nd-generation biofuel pilot and demonstration plants.

And let's not forget that the head of ADM, one of the largest producers of ethanol in the United States (and biodiesel in Europe) is a former executive of an oil company.

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