Well-Intentioned Biofuel Bill Could Cause More Harm Than Good

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Matthew Cain, 202-222-0751, mcain@foe.org; Nick Berning, 202-222-0748, nberning@foe.org

Well-Intentioned Biofuel Bill Could Cause More Harm Than Good

WASHINGTON - Last week, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a bill that would allow states to opt out of the Renewable Fuel Standard’s mandate for corn ethanol production if they produce “next-generation biofuels” instead.

The existing RFS requires 36 billion gallons of biofuels to be consumed in the U.S. annually by 2022. Of the 36 billion gallon requirement, the law allows 15 billion gallons to be met with corn ethanol and requires the rest to come from “advanced” biofuels. According to this law, 16 billion gallons must to be produced from cellulosic materials.

The Inhofe bill seeks to change the 16 billion gallon mandate for cellulosic ethanol to a mandate that can be filled with any non-ethanol fuel that achieves a 60 percent lifecycle reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline. By opening the definition of cellulosic to include any type of non-ethanol fuel, Sen. Inhofe’s bill removes the incentive to develop technologies that utilize the most sustainably sourced feedstocks.

For example, non-ethanol biofuels produced from sugar are likely to qualify as a “next-generation biofuel” as the bill currently defines it. Practically speaking, if made law, this bill could allow for the RFS mandate to be met with 36 billion gallons of biofuel produced from sugarcane, such as sugar biobutanol.

The expansion of sugar plantations in Central and South America for biofuel production has been a primary cause of “land grabs” in the region. Land grabbing is what occurs when foreign entities purchase large swaths of land in other countries, as well as when peasant farmers are forcibly removed — either by military forces or by corporate thugs — from land that they occupy for subsistence farming. As global demand for farmland increases as a result of mandates and subsidies for biofuels, land grabbing is becoming more and more common.

Kate McMahon, Friends of the Earth’s biofuels campaign coordinator, had the following response:

“Friends of the Earth is pleased that Sen. Inhofe recognizes the pitfalls of corn ethanol production, but the senator’s willingness to ignore what could be devastating impacts on peoples in the Global South is unfortunate. The wasteful consumption of energy in the U.S. should not take place at the expense of communities in the South. Sen. Inhofe’s bill could create a mandate for 36 billion gallons of sugar biofuel.”

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Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has fought to create a more healthy, just world.

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