Reports out of Washington this week that the Obama administration’s lengthy delay in releasing a final 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) biofuel blending rule due to a White House desire to re-evaluate the blending requirements in context with its proposals to address climate change is welcome news for clean energy advocates.
The 25x’25 Alliance has long called on EPA and other administration officials to step back and reassess the interrelationships and economic ramifications – both pro and con ‑ of a wide range of policy tools that are under consideration and can play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, all while offering U.S. agriculture and forestry the opportunities to provide solutions that address challenges associated with changing climatic conditions.
We’re not just talking about the RFS. Also in the hopper are a biogenic carbon accounting framework being developed by EPA for calculating emissions from the burning of biomass to produce heat and power; the “111(d)” carbon rule aimed at reducing power plant emissions; government incentives for continued production of flex-fuel vehicles; fuel-quality and human health standards, and others.
The common denominator among these policy tools is their potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It’s important for the White House to take the time to properly assess all of these proposals with an eye toward how they can collectively be used to deliver near-term, high-quality and lower cost solutions from the U.S. agriculture and forestry sectors.
There is a growing body of evidence that renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and even biofuels and biopower, can play a much larger and key role in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change. In fact, studies from credible sources such as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and others show farms and forests have the potential to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions some 25 percent through carbon dioxide sequestration through the biomass crops grown, avoided emissions resulting from making cleaner fuels available, and in converting their own emissions into energy like that produced from biodigesters on livestock operations.
Some exciting research underway in South Dakota is measuring over five years the change in soil carbon from continuous corn crops under different yield levels and different residue removal levels. The early results indicate that modern, high-yield continuous corn grown using conservation-till or no-till is sequestering more carbon each year than prairie grasses.
However, the full potential of our nation’s farms, ranches and forestlands to produce climate change solutions cannot be realized unless the administration gets the policies right.
The White House underscored its campaign to address changing conditions with the release in May of the National Climate Assessment, the most comprehensive, authoritative and transparent scientific report on U.S. climate change impacts ever generated. The assessment, which is a product of collaboration among 13 federal agencies, including USDA, confirms that climate change is affecting every region of the country and key sectors of the U.S. economy and society, including agriculture.
The document put a renewed emphasis on the need to combat the threats climate change poses now by increasing the preparedness and resilience of American communities. But it also made clear that U.S. agriculture and forestry can offer solutions to climate change.
So it is puzzling why the White House, for example, would even consider an RFS proposal that would severely reduce the volume of emission-reducing biofuels to be blended this year in the nation’s transportation fuel supply. It’s a move that simply runs counter to the aims laid out in the National Climate Assessment.
Is it because, as biofuel advocates suggest, the RFS proposed rollbacks that would significantly cut the renewable fuel content in gasoline and diesel fuel this year are the result of heavy pressure from an oil industry desperate to hold on to market share?
Ironically the proposal would make the nation more dependent on oil at a time when even a major oil company, BP, says in its annual report that at the current rate of extraction, existing global oil reserves will run out by 2070.
Clean energy leaders are hopeful the administration is, in fact, taking a long, solid look at the various policy tools pending. A good next step would be for the White House to conduct and interagency assessment of how these tools can work in harmony and achieve maximum contributions from the agriculture and forestry sectors.