Will Corn Ethanol Flunk EPA Emissions Requirements?

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In 2007, increased ethanol use was mandated by EPA and U.S. Congress as the fuel of choice to help America cut its appetite for oil. Is ethanol really the answer? There has been a ongoing discussion on whether or not ethanol can meet current EPA emission standards to reduce greenhouse gases. What good are mandates and subsidies if ethanol will not be able to meet these emission standards?

Will taxpayer money continue to be thrown after corn ethanol, or will Congress cave in to the ethanol lobbyists and give special concessions / lower the emission standard? Unfortunately, the answer will probably be the latter.

From Mulch: Biofuel Industry Effort to Undermine Global Warming Standards Criticized.

Environmental groups send letter to EPA calling on it to reject industry’s request and uphold the law. Read the Group’s Letter Here…..

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Environmental groups delivered a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency today calling on it to meet its responsibility under the law and reject a biofuel industry attempt to weaken global warming standards for ethanol.

In the next few days, the EPA is expected to release calculations of greenhouse gas emissions caused by biofuel use. In an attempt to influence these calculations, the biofuel industry recently sent a letter to the EPA asking it to break the law and ignore congressionally mandated guidelines for how such emissions should be calculated. According to the energy bill enacted last December, indirect emissions such as land use change must be included in estimates of total greenhouse gas emissions. Research shows that emissions from land use changes such as deforestation can cause greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels to be twice those of gasoline.

“It’s telling that the biofuel industry and its supporters have become so accustomed to government handouts that they took offense when Congress asked for proof that federally subsidized ethanol and biodiesel will reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jonathan Lewis, an attorney for the Clean Air Task Force. “But research indicates that biofuel production contributes to global warming, and the United States can no longer support biofuels without regard to their environmental impact.”Source: Mulch

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Picture Credit: Nik’s Pics

Interesting Commentary, From the Des Moines Register:

Des Moines Register Op-ed: “We Need to Overhaul Our Biofuels Policy”

First, Philip Brasher reported that the ethanol industry is lobbying the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure corn ethanol benefits from the 2007 congressional mandate requiring us to use more biofuels. To benefit from the mandate, a biofuel must reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent compared to using gasoline. The industry wants EPA to ignore the large amounts of greenhouse gases that will be released if new land is plowed under as biofuel production ramps up. If those emissions are counted, corn ethanol likely won’t pass the 20 percent reduction test.

Second, Perry Beeman reported that emissions from ethanol plants themselves account for 15 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions from major sources in Iowa. The 7.6 million metric tons that ethanol plants emit each year are equivalent to emissions from almost 1.4 million cars, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. But emissions from the ethanol plants themselves are just the beginning. Growing the corn needed to supply ethanol plants uses a lot of fossil fuel, and the application of nitrogen fertilizer releases nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Scientists are warning that if EPA properly accounts for greenhouse-gas emissions, using corn ethanol may be worse than using gasoline. Moreover, the biofuel mandates and subsidies do nothing to address the increased risk of soil degradation, water pollution and habitat loss as we ramp up production to supply crops for food, feed and fuel.

The effect and risk of soil degradation, water pollution, pesticide and herbicide contamination, habitat loss and destroying the Gulf of Mexico (Dead Zone) was completely reported in a previous CG post: Corn Ethanol Killing Our Oceans?


Iowa and the United States have placed a large bet on corn ethanol. Every gallon of ethanol produced costs federal taxpayers 51 cents in subsidies. That means the 9 billion gallons of ethanol the 2007 energy bill mandates for production this year cost us $5.1 billion in tax breaks to the companies that blend ethanol with gasoline. The Energy Information Agency reported in April 2008 that 79 percent of all federal subsidies for renewable fuels – including solar, wind and geothermal – went to support ethanol production. Read the article, Source: DesMoinesRegister.com. This commentary is from an Iowa newspaper and Iowa has 109 E85 Flex Fuel Fueling Stations.

Is this the right balance for an energy policy that will move us away from fossil fuels, reduce global warming and protect our environment? What do you think the EPA will do if ethanol cannot meet the current emission standards?

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3 Responses to Will Corn Ethanol Flunk EPA Emissions Requirements?

  1. Mike November 11, 2008 at 9:42 am #

    The article you are referring to in the DM Register was written by an environmental lobbyist and is a “commentary”. It is not a “news” piece.

    Looking at land use and corn-based ethanol is important. However, concluding that an acre of corn in Iowa that goes to ethanol results in an acre of forest being plowed is not good science; yet that is what the author of that piece suggests by citing a research article that has been debunked more than once.

  2. chemicallygreen.com November 11, 2008 at 7:23 pm #

    @Mike: Thanks for the comments. This was a commentary piece and the author has expressed his views and you expressed yours.

  3. Jefffrey S. Marth November 20, 2008 at 11:00 am #

    Where and hell does this guy live? In a cave? An oil well?

    As for the letter he references, the group called Friends of the Environmnet, are NO FRIENDS OF MINE, or our Planet. Calling yourself a friend does not make you a friend – your actions make you a friend. Spreading false info makes you a lyer, not a friend of Earth.

    The claims made in this article are completely bogus and have been debunked by great minds! The author is obviousely promoting junk science for the auto and oil industry.

    FACTS: BIOHOLS are here to stay. Ethanol is just one of the fuels. Corn is important today to jump start and seed the infrastructure for E85 from lignocellulosic ethanal. We are 1-3 years away from full scale production at $2/gal!

    NO ONE IS SAYING CORN IS THE FUTURE FOR ETHANOL! I DON’T HEAR THIS GROUP DISPUTING GASOLINE!

    Fact: Gasoline is way out of the Energy Balance equation – not ethanol/biohols. Fact: Gasoline is killing people and our planet with hazardous emissions.

    THE SCIENCE COMMUNITY IS UNITED and is PROVING CELLULOSIC ETHANOL IS THE PATHWAY TO THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION FUELS. And will not require subsidies, unlike gasoline.

    Take a look:

    SEE http://www.khoslaventures.com/resources.html
    SEE (E3, RangeFuels, LS9, Kior,…)

    Looks like the author fails the Darwinian Test… Ha.

    Call me anytime for more BioFuel facts and info: 650-213-9979

    Visit http://www.UnitedBioLube.us for even more Green Chemistry info.

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