By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- Trying to head off any changes to the nation's Renewable Fuels Standard, ethanol groups are embracing the role biofuels play in dealing with climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions as compared to petroleum.
Several ethanol companies and renewable-fuel backers, banding together under the Fuels America coalition, wrote a congressional committee this week that the best way to reduce dependence on oil and cut greenhouse-gas emissions is to stay the course on the Renewable Fuels Standard.
Supporters of the RFS find themselves engaged in a series of reports to the chairman and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the role biofuels play in the economy and environment. Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R- Mich., and ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., are planning to hold hearings on the RFS this summer, but no dates have been set.
Several House members have co-sponsored different pieces of legislation to repeal or modify the RFS, including one bill that would allow natural gas to be considered a renewable fuel stock under the standard.
The committee had sent a letter to stakeholders to provide information about the RFS' role in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and answer other questions on the effects renewable fuels are having on the environment. The RFS sets certain standards for biofuels to provide lower overall emissions compared to fossil fuels.
The U.S. can't address climate change unless the country reduces its consumption of oil, regardless of whether that oil is domestic or foreign, the ethanol groups stated. The Fuels America response cited that carbon dioxide emissions globally reached 400 parts per million earlier this month, highlighting that countries haven't done enough to avoid a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures, or about 3.6 F.
The ethanol groups note 31% of domestic carbon dioxide releases come from fossil fuel combustion. Of those emissions, nearly 65% come from gasoline for cars and pickups.
Yet, production of renewable fuel, largely ethanol, has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 33.4 million metric tons. "That's equivalent to removing 7 million cars and pickups from the road in one year," the Fuels America response stated. EPA also estimates that fully implementing the RFS by 2022 would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 138 million tons annually.
Fuels America argues renewable fuels could do more to lower emissions, but market access is largely blocked with efforts to keep ethanol blends at 10% levels. Higher blend levels would translate into lower emissions, the groups stated.
The National Corn Growers Association cited gains made in agricultural technologies to not only feed more people but also increase efficiency. NCGA, citing a Field to Market study last year, stated, "In the last 30 years, corn production has improved on all measures of resource efficiency, by decreasing per bushel: land use by 30%, soil erosion by 67%, irrigation by 53%, energy use by 43% and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 36%," NCGA stated. "All of these improvements have continued while the ethanol industry has increased corn demand."
NCGA also argued EPA could improve its lifecycle and land-use calculations by taking into account management practices farmers use and the benefit of byproducts such as distilled grain. Double cropping, reduced or no-till farming, precision fertilizer applications and cover crops all lead to reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, NCGA stated.
Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the committee must compare the impact of renewable fuels with the environmental impacts of petroleum fuel. That is the only way to properly consider what the country would be facing without the RFS.
"In that regard, the questions posed by the committee appear woefully incomplete," Dinneen said. "By focusing exclusively on the environmental impacts of ethanol and other biofuels used for the RFS, the committee is missing the significant environmental and public health consequences of increased petroleum production and the absence of ethanol and the RFS."
Dinneen then posed questions about the environmental impacts of oil exploration drilling, extraction, fracking and pumping, as well as transporting oil and refining it.
"As Congress assesses the merits of ethanol and the RFS, a clear understanding of the fossil fuels being displaced by ethanol and other renewable fuels is imperative. Changes to the RFS would undoubtedly lead to increased use of marginal petroleum, fuels that have their own distinct environmental, public health and carbon effects."
House Energy and Commerce letter requesting environmental information: http://dld.bz/…
National Corn Growers Association response: http://dld.bz/…
Renewable Fuels Association response: http://dld.bz/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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