Environmentalists Want to “Stick” It to Farmers

Jason Hill of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment wrote recently in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, asking why the Waxman-Markey climate change bill should treat agricultural emissions differently from energy and transportation emissions, with a “carrot-and-stick approach, one in which fossil fuels suffer the stick while agriculture feasts upon the carrot.” Hill’s primary objection to the bill is the amendments added by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), which exempt agriculture and forestry from carbon caps but provide credits for carbon sequestration that farmers can trade on the market. They also would postpone implementation of the EPA’s analysis of international land use change.

Writes Hill, “Peterson’s amendment is essentially nothing more than a slick accounting trick, one meant to portray biofuels produced in this nation in a better light while making the carbon footprint of agriculture in developing countries look worse.”

This is a bizarre statement, turning even the theory of indirect land use change on its ear. The original calculation of indirect land use change put forward by Searchinger et al held that “when farmers use today’s good cropland to produce food, they help to avert greenhouse gasses from land use change.” Further, in the context of international negotiations for a climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the ILUC theory is clearly an attempt to shift accounting of carbon emissions in developing countries onto U.S. biofuels.

Calculations of land use change by current models are completely contradicted by agricultural trade and production numbers, making the models appear to be nothing more than accounting tricks. The model projections look nothing like real outcomes because they rely on several false premises and double count certain sources of emissions. The greatest fallacy of the ILUC theory is that worldwide agricultural productivity has already reached a natural limit and cannot respond to increased demand in any other way than clearing of rainforests. The main premise of the theory – that biofuels have been introduced into a static worldwide agricultural system and therefore are the primary cause of shifting agricultural production – is an assumption that can’t be supported by data.

Using USDA’s modest assumption for growth in yields of U.S. corn over the life of the Renewable Fuel Standard, a simple calculation shows that corn productivity can keep up with demand to produce the conventional biofuel portion of the RFS. This assumes continuation of 2016 to 2018 USDA projections for 2022 – constant total planted acreage of 90.5 million acres, increase of 75 million bushels per year for fuel ethanol, and increase of 1.8 bushel per acre per year yield improvement:

Overall harvested acreage for corn production is projected to remain stable due to continued yield productivity gains

In fact, USDA currently projects a corn yield of 159.5 bushels per acre for this year. And USDA projections from January 2009 show that inclusion of biofuels will stabilize land use, in terms of the acres planted to the eight major crops:

U.S. land planted to eight major crops.

Beyond this, and despite a report) that deforestation in Brazil increased in June, the deforestation rate in Brazil continues to decline. Responding to the Agence France-Presse report, Mongabay noted, “Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon typically peaks during the June-August dry season when ranchers and farmers burn forest to clear land for development.”

A group of scholars – that includes Hill – recently called for a focus on real solutions to climate change. The world needs economic growth, energy and food. We should not premise our search for solutions on the false notion that these three necessities are in direct competition with each other.

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Strange Bedfellows Indeed

The Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have cosigned a series of letters to Senate leaders opposing additional study of the theory of indirect land use change. These groups would like to lock in the EPA’s current measurement of indirect land use change, which includes heavy penalties for corn- and soybean-based biofuels.

The coalition is responding to the inclusion in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 of Section 551, under the Agriculture and Forestry offsets. This part of the legislation directs the National Academies of Science to review existing studies of indirect land use change and determine whether models can reliably project the greenhouse gas emissions for both biofuels and conventional petroleum fuels.

According to Nathanael Greene of the NRDC, “This coalition has come together because we want sound science rather than special interests to determine our biofuels policies.” And according to the NPRA’s Greg Scott, “Sound, verifiable science should always guide the crafting and implementation of environmental and energy policy.”

So is the EPA’s current analysis of indirect land use change sound and verifiable? I’ve noted before that the EPA’s methodology is based on an assumption that there is a cause and effect relationship between production of renewable fuels and international land use change. Yet, they have not footnoted their assertion or demonstrated this cause and effect relationship. Sorry, but that’s not science, let alone sound and verifiable science.

Section 204(a)(3) of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, the law that established the current RFS, already obligates the EPA to study whether there is an international impact from biofuel production. By December 2010, the EPA will have to come up with some direct evidence of the cause and effect relationship.

Section 203 of that same law asked the National Academies to study the issue of food and biofuel. Though the NAS appears not to have done the study, the Congressional Budget Office did complete a study. While showing that biofuels had roughly half the impact of oil on food prices, the CBO’s findings failed to explain roughly two thirds of food price increases during 2007 and 2008. The 2020 Project finds an easy explanation for food price increases in the profits made by members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Politics is definitely about strange bedfellows. So, which of these groups will gain what from ensuring that biofuels are penalized for international land use change?

The Facts of Life on Waxman-Markey

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have … the Peterson amendment to the Waxman-Markey bill, formally known as H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). According to Grist contributor Meredith Niles, there are a number of positive inclusions in the amendment that were advocated by environmental groups.

The good aspects, according to Niles, are those that will encourage improved agricultural practices. The bad part of the amendment is that the USDA – the agency whose mission is to promote both domestic agriculture (to keep it from moving overseas) and food safety – will oversee the implementation of these positive aspects.

Niles laments that “industrial agriculture interests are overtaking environmental interests in a bill that, again, is fundamentally meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” No doubt, the agricultural interests have a similar lament about implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which was intended to reduce reliance on oil. There is an interesting comment to Niles’ article by ecoplasm, who says, “Selecting ‘scientific’ analytical tools to meet some influence group’s desired result was a hallmark of the past administration’s EPA, hopefully not this one’s.”

A Scientific American assessment of the Waxman-Markey (Peterson) bill shows how much the “science” of indirect land use change has been affected by the rhetoric from environmental NGOs. The article asks, “Should Domestic Ethanol Producers Pay for Deforestation Abroad?,” and states plainly, “the question is not whether there are indirect impacts but rather how big they are.” The reality is that this assumption about indirect land use change – that it will inevitably occur – is built into the model EPA uses to measure it. It’s a perfect example of selecting a ‘scientific’ analytical tool to achieve an influence group’s desired result.

The Peterson amendment proposes a study by the National Academies on indirect land use change. No doubt, another example of carefully selecting an analytical tool. The 2007 EISA bill also contains a provision for the National Academies to study the issue, though funding for the study has never been authorized.

The science on indirect land use change will continue to develop (is currently continuing to develop). The real issues will be whether there are any positive moves toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions once all the politics are done.

Advanced Biofuels – Increasing Domestic Economic Growth and Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Last week the Members of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment in the House of Representatives held hearings on “The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” (“ACES”). ACES is a draft climate change bill including language for a renewable electricity standard, carbon capture and sequestration, a low carbon fuel standard, development of a smart electricity grid, energy efficiency, and allowances and offsets of a cap and trade program for greenhouse gas emissions and global warming pollution reduction. This legislation, if and when it is signed into federal law, will be pivotal for the environment, the US economy and international trade among other impacts. Making sure the legislation is written correctly in order to achieve its goals is an enormous task for the Committee and for Congress as a whole.

One of the panels testifying at the hearing was titled “Green Jobs and Economic Benefits” on Wednesday, April 22 and included testimony from the American Wind Energy Association, Blue Green Alliance, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Stockholm Environment Institute. Both Republican and Democratic Representatives expressed concern over the economic impact a cap and trade regime could have on the American economy and job creation/loss, particularly at a time when our economy is not at its strongest.

A study by Bio Economic Research Associates found that direct economic output from the advanced biofuels industry, including capital investment, research and development, technology royalties, processing operations, feedstock production and biofuels distribution, is estimated to rise to $5.5 billion in 2012, reaching $17.4 billion in 2016, and $37 billion by 2022 and direct job creation from advanced biofuels production could reach 29,000 by 2012, rising to 94,000 by 2016 and 190,000 by 2022. Total job creation, accounting for economic multiplier effects, could reach 807,000 by 2022.

Ensuring that any climate legislation that is signed by President Obama is technology and feedstock neutral, provides incentives for producing the lowest carbon fuels, electricity, manufacturing processes and products to allow for technologies such as advanced biofuels, is imperative in order to achieve 1) reducing greenhouse gas emissions and 2) jump starting our economy in the next great innovative areas, clean renewable energy and manufacturing. The statistics above along with the proven greenhouse gas reduction benefits of advanced biofuels (Sandia National Laboratories found that producing 60B gallons of biofuels annually could provide annual greenhouse gas savings of 260 million tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent to 45 coal-fired power plants) clearly show that advanced biofuels can and should play an important role in our goal of significant global warming pollution reduction.