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EPA Renewable Fuel Standard To Foster Advanced Biofuels

biofuels-field2In the face of declining U.S. biofuel production, the White House is forming a working group to speed the sustainable development of biofuels and make ethanol more widely available at filling stations.

The working group aims to accelerate funding to biofuels producers, in the hopes that they will phase out fossil fuel use at their own plants, instead using biofuels.

The group, which will be headed by the chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture, also exists to encourage a new generation of biofuels made from biomass and other non-corn feedstocks.

“In the past, we’ve been stove-piping our efforts within each agency,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a press conference May 5. “This will go a long way to integrating President Obama’s strategy to have us all work together, including efforts with private industry.”

A national renewable fuel standard, however, will increase scrutiny of biofuel producers’ own carbon footprint, making its products look less climate-friendly. Mirroring a similar change in California, EPA is proposing to measure carbon emissions that come as a result of biofuel production. This includes a complicated and controversial formula that adds in emissions that occur when overseas farmers respond to higher food prices by converting forest and grassland to cropland.

“Life cycle estimates of the greenhouse gas relate to the fuel cycle and land conversion,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “This research will be very important to future policies.”

Jackson said the public comment period will ensure that external scientific groups can weigh in.

“We want to encourage farmers to shift away from fossil fuels,” Vilsack said.

Meanwhile, U.S. biodiesel output is down sharply, Reuters reports. The National Biodiesel Board said production fell in March to 30 million gallons, compared with 49 million gallons in March 2008, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

The board is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to require the use of 500 million gallons of diesel fuel made from biomass this year. By 2012, it seeks for EPA to require use of a billion gallons annually.

The EPA has proposed that much and more, although the targets wouldn’t take effect until 2022.

  • 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels;
  • 15 billion gallons annually of conventional biofuels;
  • 4 billion gallons of advanced biofuels; and
  • 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel.

The EU has put a tariff on U.S. biodiesel and a U.S. tax incentive to encourage exports has been removed. Before the tax law changed, U.S. output was more than 60 million gallons monthly.

The EPA rules’ impact to biodiesel farmers comes after farm states, fearing a rise in input costs related  passage of climate legislation, have been making their voices heard on Capital Hill. Carbon caps would cause increased input costs for farmers in the form of higher fuel and fertilizer costs, the National Corn Growers Association on April 29 told the House of Representatives’ Small Business Committee.

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