California regulators, trying to assess the true environmental cost of corn ethanol, are poised to declare that the biofuel cannot help the state reduce global warming.
As they see it, corn is no better – and might be worse – than petroleum when total greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions are considered. Such a declaration, to be considered later this week by the California Air Resources Board, would be a considerable blow to the corn-ethanol industry in the United States.
So reports The Daily Climate today. Let’s hope that California takes a leadership role here. The country is simply awash in too much corn ethanol. Current federal mandates would nearly double current production and consume about one third of the annual U.S. corn harvest.
Yet in fact corn ethanol almost certainly has no significant GHG benefit, may actually have higher net GHGs than oil, and has multiple other harmful impacts:
- The Fuel on the Hill “” The Corn Supremacy
- Switch to Corn Promotes Amazon Deforestation
- More corn ethanol = Bigger Gulf dead zone
- Let them eat biofuels!
- Can words describe how bad corn ethanol is?
- About those two studies dissing biofuels
Still, the corn folks won’t go down without a fight:
That has the ethanol industry in a full-court press against the proposal, saying it risks killing investments needed to create the next generation of cleaner, more efficient biofuels.
But California’s regulators say they have no choice.
The proposal would work like this: If increased production of corn-based ethanol in the U.S. raises corn prices and accelerates the conversion of rainforests and conservations lands to farmland worldwide, greenhouse emissions and loss of the carbon sink associated with such deforestation and disruption must be counted towards the biofuel’s total emissions.
“Losing a carbon sink would defeat the purpose of this regulation to reduce greenhouse emissions,” [CARB spokesman Dimitri] Stanich said.
The regulation is part of California’s low-carbon fuel standard to reduce greenhouse emissions from transportation fuels by an average of 10 percent by 2020 or 16 million metric tons of carbon emissions over the next decade.
In fact, Greenwire (subs. req’d) reports today:
Mary Nichols, the ARB’s chairwoman, said in an interview last week that she had not heard any convincing arguments in favor of dropping the land-use calculation.
“We might hear some new information that causes us to change our views, but the prevailing view … is that we have to include calculation, and no one has offered an alternative that they say is better,” Nichols said. “The people who oppose it say, ‘We just don’t know enough and shouldn’t do anything,’ and we don’t think that’s acceptable.”
Nichols continued, “I know there’s some view out there that the ARB is going to weigh the volume of comments or that we will be trumped by political pressure, but that has not been the history of our proceedings, and I don’t think it will occur this time.
“No single stakeholder will be totally happy, but that’s usually the test of a successful rulemaking.”
Nichols described the rule as a departure from federal policy, which has so far been focused on targets for biofuels production. “National policy is also moving in the direction of increasing volumes of truly low-carbon biofuels, but it’s a biofuels rule,” she said. “Our rule is not a biofuels rule. We believe biofuels will do very well under this rule and there will be a lot of them, and we’re pleased with that.”
The original idea of using corn ethanol as a bridge fuel to cellulosic ethanol (which may be a “core climate solution“) was a good one. That might have required maybe a few billion gallons a year. But things got out of hand, and the current federal mandate is now absurdly large — 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol by 2012 — in the hopes that we’ll get 21 Billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2022 (which we won’t and probably shouldn’t). We should roll back the corn ethanol requirement to 7.5 billion gallons.
The fact is that from a climate perspective, it almost certainly makes more sense to use most cellulosic biomass for electricity, not fuels (see “If Obama stops dirty coal, as he must, what will replace it? Part 2: An intro to biomass cofiring“). Indeed, a plug in hybrid or electric car can probably go about twice as far per acre of land running on electricity from biomass power than an internal combustion engine car can go on cellulosic biofuels (assuming we ever actually solve technological problems needed to make such biofuels affordable and practical).
Let’s hope California can stare down the pressure and help stop the madness.