Sen. Bingaman's Bill Gets Biofuels Policy Wrong

Sprawling Plan Leaves Out Global Warming Solutions, Environmental Protection
WASHINGTON (March 28, 2007) -- A bill aiming to ramp up U.S. biofuels production from 6 billion barrels a year to 36 billion barrels a year could worsen global warming and cause significant environmental destruction if passed in its current form, according to energy and environmental experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The biofuels bill was introduced this week by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Pete Domenici (R-NM).
“We need to do biofuels right, and this bill gets it very wrong,” NRDC Legislative Director Karen Wayland said. “Breaking our addiction to oil is critical to solving global warming, and biofuels will be a big part of the solution. But this bill leaves out the safeguards and standards we need to protect against the serious potential environmental side effects of such a dramatic increase in energy crops.”
Leading scientists and energy analysts agree that biofuels can be deployed in ways that provide large reductions in global warming pollution and help protect soil, water, air and wildlife habitat quality. But they can also be deployed in ways that increase pollution and environmental damage across the board. Environmental performance standards and safeguards are essential to drive the industry to provide the largest possible benefits. 
The development of biofuels, such as ethanol, is most valuable when combined with programs that ensure energy efficiency, so that the new fuel is not wasted. Otherwise, America will be trading gas guzzlers for biofuels guzzlers.
“By supercharging the renewable fuel standard mandating a minimum amount of biofuels use in America while omitting basic, commonsense environmental safeguards, Bingaman’s biofuels bill puts us in a hotrod with no brakes, no seatbelts, headed straight for a brick wall of unintended consequences,” Wayland said.
Bingaman’s bill omits provisions necessary to protect against unrivaled environmental degradation, such as destruction of native forests in favor of farms to grow trees or crops for biofuels, or increased water pollution because of increased fertilizer use.
A biofuels strategy also needs to go hand in hand with new opportunities to achieve greater fuel efficiency. Otherwise the huge mandate proposed by the Bingaman bill will place untenable pressure on our lands, water, forests, and wildlife, and greatly impact public health by exacerbating water pollution and herbicide and pesticide use -- all without ensuring greenhouse gas reductions.
In addition to requiring that 36 billion gallons of biofuels be used in the United States by 2022 without necessary environmental protection standards, the bill:
  • Requires that 21 billion gallons of the 36 billion gallons biofuels called for be “advanced biofuels” produced from plant material other than corn kernels. While diversifying away from corn to other feedstocks is a good and necessary step, it is far from enough to ensure environmental benefits rather than environmental degradation.
  • Does not provide critical global warming emissions standards to ensure that the bill reduces heat-trapping pollution. Without these provisions, the bill could make global warming worse by encouraging America to needlessly plow down forests and grasslands, releasing untold tons of global warming pollution.
  • Does not regulate the amount of global warming pollution created in biofuels production. For instance an ethanol refinery could run on highly polluting coal.
  • Omits protections of national forests, parks, and other land held in the public trust.
  • Does not include any safeguards to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, or soil quality. 
  • Does nothing to control conversion of natural ecosystems such as native forests, which would have irreversible impacts on wildlife. (The bill does, however, prohibit the use of old growth forests to meet the 36 billion gallon biofuels requirement.)
  • Fails to uphold vital conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve and Wetland Reserve programs of the Farm Bill.
On the positive side, the bill does establish a number of good infrastructure and research and development programs that will help promote biofuels in general.
While the Bingaman bill takes a step in the right direction by providing needed investment in bioenergy infrastructure and promoting the use of next generation biofuel made from crops other than corn, it ultimately fails to set out the right path by ignoring the environmental pressure these new demands will place on our natural resources.