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Inside the Beltway: "GHG Emissions Calculations Won't be Defensible in the End"
by Eric Washburn

Two separate greenhouse gas initiatives being developed now will shape the future of our industry: the rules for the Renewable Fuel Standard and for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

Thus far, the outlook is disheartening, largely because both the EPA and California are expected to penalize ethanol for speculative “indirect” greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from land clearing in tropical countries, while ignoring “indirect” GHG emissions associated with the hundreds of billions of dollars spent each year to guard world oil supplies and shipping routes.

First, EPA is in the process of drafting the rules for assessing the lifecycle GHG emissions from ethanol versus petroleum. To its credit, EPA has been consulting with ACE and other industry leaders. However, it appears that there is little chance its work will reflect real lifecycle GHG emissions because: 1) EPA is required by law to compare ethanol to average 2005 gasoline, which means that it will probably not count future increased use of petroleum derived from Canadian tar sands, which are extremely carbon-intense, and 2) indirect emissions from the petroleum sector will not be counted either, as EPA has decided not to estimate them.

Second, California is writing the rules for its own Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and it appears increasingly likely that researchers at the University of California at Berkeley will urge ethanol to be ascribed GHG emissions about 20 percent higher than those from petroleum. Corn ethanol will be saddled with enormous amounts of GHG emissions from theoretical future land clearing in tropical countries, an entirely unproven theory that is popular with anti-ethanol cynics. It will, however, help California become the first state to achieve $8 gasoline.

If EPA and California proceed in this fashion, the estimates of the GHG emissions from corn ethanol will not be scientifically defensible in the end. While this will surely hurt corn ethanol and undermine its participation in these programs, it will have larger impacts down the road. Lack of scientific defensibility will undermine the credibility of these emerging greenhouse gas programs and fuel speculation that they are designed more to achieve philosophical anti-agricultural objectives than to actually reduce emissions . This will make it even harder to enact a mandatory national cap and trade program in the future.

ACE is working on our own review of greenhouse gas emissions and biofuels, and we intend to use this data to better inform regulators as these efforts continue.

 
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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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