Bad biofuels politics make for strange bedfellows pressing for science

What do Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Grocery Manufacturers Association,  the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, and NRDC and nearly 42 other odd bedfellows have in common? We all want sound science rather than sloppy politics to dictate our biofuels policies. Two largely overlapping ad-hoc coalitions have started circulating letters around Capitol Hill pushing back on what they see as the runaway politics of conventional biofuels, especially corn ethanol.

Biofuels are often promoted because they can help revitalize poor rural communities, but it is the poor that will be hurt the most if we let biofuels pollute our air and climate and drive up food prices. This coalition has come together because we want sound science rather than special interests to determine our biofuels policies. We are here to push back against the runaway politics of corn ethanol.

To date there have been two sets of letters from this set of organizations that don't often see eye to eye. Both sets urge Congress and EPA to follow the science on key biofuels policies. The first set was circulated starting last week and addressed the issue of increasing the amount of ethanol that can be legally blended with gasoline. The second set circulated today, addressed the emissions from land-use change caused by biofuels.

In both cases, while the interests are diverse, the message is simple: Congress should not legislate the science and EPA should not short circuit its scientific standards. There's plenty of studies and analysis that suggests that so-called mid-level blends of ethanol and gasoline can damage some engines and pollution control systems and result in increased air pollution. Similarly there's peer-reviewed studies and regulatory proposals that suggest that biofuels can cause large GHG emissions through land-use change (and none--not one--that suggest otherwise).

Decisions on these important issues should be based on the best science, not political expediency. Ethanol blends should only be approved if rigorous, independent and verifiable testing proves such blends are safe from a public health perspective and for engine operations. (Here are the environmental community's comment to EPA urging them to reject a petition to allow mid-level blends based on the data that currently available.) Similarly, the lifecycle GHG emissions of biofuels (as with all fuels) should be based on the best science and appropriate regulatory rulemaking process.

See my earlier blogs about how entrenched ag interests are trying to use the climate bill to drive biofuels policy in this new destructive direction. As I mentioned in those blogs, not only do I think that these policies are bad for the environment, I think they're bad for the biofuels industry. They're just going to feed the growing perception that our biofuels policies are just subsidies for corn growers to produce dirty fuels. It's short-term thinking at its worst.

About the Authors

Nathanael Greene

Director, Renewable Energy Policy, Energy & Transportation program

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