February 23, 2020

Biofuels: Indirect Land Use; Climate Change; Executive Branch Ag Policy Perspectives; and Peanuts

Biofuels: Indirect Land Use

The Los Angeles Times editorial board noted on Monday that, “Until somebody comes up with a way to power a car with garbage, like the time-traveling DeLorean in ‘Back to the Future,’ our options are limited: gasoline and diesel, electricity, natural gas, liquid coal, hydrogen or plant-derived biofuels such as ethanol. Most people on both the right and the left agree that if we want to decrease our reliance on foreign oil and/or slow the progress of climate change, we’re going to have to use less of the first two and focus on some combination of the remaining five. Yet pursuing the alternatives can cause environmental and economic damage that’s as bad as, or worse than, that of oil and gasoline. So how do we come up with regulations that encourage cleaner fuels and discourage destructive ones, without making technology decisions that are better left to the free market?

That’s the challenge the state of California is taking on by creating a Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which after more than a year of development and hearings by the state Air Resources Board [CARB] is slated for approval Thursday. It’s a daunting task, all the more so because the state is trying to do something that hasn’t been tried before: regulate not just the direct ‘life-cycle’ emissions from producing, transporting and using fuels, but the indirect emissions that result when land is converted to grow crops for biofuels.

“This matters a great deal, because not all biofuels are created equal. Some of them, particularly ethanol produced from corn, raise food prices, pollute waterways as more fertilizer is spread over the fields, and encourage farmers in places such as Latin America to cut down more rain forest to grow crops. Yet measuring these indirect effects relies on untested and possibly unreliable science, which is why the biofuels industry is in an uproar over California’s proposed regulation.”