EPA: Palm oil flunks the climate test

EPA’s analysis of the two types of biofuel shows that biodiesel and renewable diesel produced from palm oil have estimated lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions of 17% and 11% respectively for these biofuels compared to the statutory baseline petroleum-based diesel fuel used in the RFS program. This analysis indicates that both palm oil-based biofuels would fail to qualify as meeting the minimum 20% GHG performance threshold for renewable fuel under the RFS program.

Michal Rosenoer of Friends of the Earth cheered the finding.

She noted that the group believes EPA has inaccurately found that corn ethanol — currently the nation’s primary renewable fuel — meets the emissions thresholds, but credits the agency for getting it right this time.

“They have done a good job with palm oil and recognized and fully accounted for palm oil’s negative environmental consequences,” said Rosenoer, a biofuels policy advocate with the group.

Biofuels opponents argue that forest-clearing to enable production of biofuels crops creates a long-term carbon “debt” that overwhelms any emissions benefits at the tailpipe.

“Oil palm planted on rainforest peatland when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence is still paying off its carbon debt today,” said Glenn Hurowitz, director of campaigns for Climate Advisers.

EPA is inviting comments on its data.

The conclusion that palm-oil-based fuels fare slightly better than traditional fuels, but are not good enough to meet the 20 percent requirement, stems from EPA’s “mid-point” estimate. The EPA notice states that actual emissions may be higher.

From the notice:

A majority of the areas of uncertainty that we have identified, and discussed above, would lead to higher actual lifecycle GHG emissions than estimated in our midpoint results. Some of these areas of uncertainty appear to be fairly likely to result in greater actual emissions and in some cases by a substantial amount. In comparison, we identified a smaller number of uncertainties which could result in less actual emissions, but these factors appear less likely to reduce emissions by an equivalent amount.