Controversial EPA ethanol rules on tap

Lawmakers such as Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (D-Iowa) and John ThuneJohn ThuneThis week: GOP picks up the pieces after healthcare defeat Lawmakers want infrastructure funded by offshore tax reform Senate GOP hedges on ObamaCare repeal timeline MORE (R-S.D.) – backed by ethanol producers – have been battling EPA’s consideration of something called “international indirect land use changes” when measuring ethanol’s carbon footprint.

The phrase refers to emissions from, say, forest clearing to create cropland  in other countries to compensate for increasing use of U.S. corn and soybeans for making fuels. It’s important because the 2007 law – which requires use of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels in the U.S. by 2022 – demands that ethanol and other biofuels have lower “lifecycle” emissions than gasoline and diesel.

The ethanol industry has campaigned vigorously in recent years against such measurements – they argue the science behind connecting the U.S. industry to deforestation in places like Brazil and Indonesia is immature and shoddy.

But environmentalists say failure to account for these emissions could allow support for renewable fuels that ironically worsen climate change.

EPA, in a draft of the rules last year, found that current-generation ethanol might not provide the 20 percent emissions improvement over gasoline that the 2007 law requires, and could even lead to more emissions in some cases. (Next-wave fuels like cellulosic ethanol would have to fare much better, providing a 50-60 percent reduction compared to gasoline.)

But EPA, under heavy pressure, could provide a friendlier analysis in the final regulation.

Most current ethanol production is exempted from the emissions requirements anyway. But the industry has positioned itself as part of the solution to both climate change and oil import reliance. Lobbyists fear a bad report card on emissions could be a black eye for ethanol and even hinder development of the next generation of biofuels. Stay tuned.