Palm oil industry, ALEC press EPA to reverse climate finding

The Environmental Protection Agency is under pressure to reverse a finding that biofuels made with palm oil don’t meet the greenhouse gas requirements of the nation’s renewable transportation fuels mandate.

An EPA analysis released in January found that diesel fuels made from palm oil have lower “lifecycle” emissions than traditional fuel, but the difference isn’t big enough to satisfy a 2007 law that expanded the fuels mandate. More on that here.

Comments filed on EPA’s finding show strong opposition from palm oil producers in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, among other opponents.

ADVERTISEMENT
For instance, the Indonesian Palm Oil Board writes that “EPA has used some assumptions which are very different with some facts and scientific data about palm oil and palm oil-based biofuels.”

The American Palm Oil Council, in requesting an extension of the comment period, called EPA’s conclusion “based on faulty data and erroneous assumptions.”

The Council promotes the sale of palm oil produced in Malaysia. 

The U.S. arm of Wilmar International, a major palm oil producer, also takes issue with EPA in its filing seeking more time to comment, noting that the company is “confident” that biodiesel from palm oil can meet the climate standards. The company cultivates palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia.

EPA has extended the deadline and is now accepting comments until April 27.

Wilmar Oleo North America has hired the firm Van Ness Feldman to lobby on the issue, according to an April disclosure filing.

The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council also filed comments criticizing EPA’s finding. “The Environmental Protection Agency's decision to restrict the trade of tropical palm oil marks an abandonment of free trade principles that have been so beneficial to so many,” the group said.

EPA’s finding is part of a wider controversy over the climate benefits of bio-energy. Analyzing the emissions associated with biofuels is complex because it must address so-called land use changes stemming from crop cultivation.

Environmentalists welcomed EPA’s conclusion, arguing that forest clearing and other land use changes to enable production of biofuels crops creates a long-term carbon “debt” that overwhelms any emissions benefits at the tailpipe.

“Indonesia and Malaysia, the largest producers of palm oil, have not taken concrete steps to ensure that palm oil expansion stay out of forests or peat swamps, so future predictions should not assume these types of land are avoided,” state comments to EPA organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A broad 2007 energy law expanded the amount of biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, which must be blended into the U.S. fuel supply.

Biofuels meeting the Renewable Fuels Standard must have at least 20 percent fewer “lifecycle” greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline and diesel, although most corn-based ethanol was exempted.

EPA’s January analysis of fuels made from palm oil found that they fell short. It states:

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.