Geoff Cooper responds to US ethanol causing "indirect land use change" and the continuous annual reduction in deforestation rates resulting in the lowest point since 1988.
The study's findings stand in stark contrast to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) acreage data, which show increased corn and soybean acres in the region have occurred via crop switching, not cropland expansion.
Posted in Land Use
A federal court in California has ruled that the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. This is a significant development for all U.S. ethanol producers. In the following post, the RFA explains the ruling and why it truly matters.
A new year ushers in a new era for ethanol in the U.S. New markets domestically and internationally are opening up just as new technologies for ethanol production begin commercial construction at new biorefineries around the country. What 2012 will ultimately hold for American ethanol production remains to be seen, but that shouldn’t stop us from positing some guesses.
An in-depth analysis of U.S. land use patterns released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows total cropland decreased by 34 million acres from 2002 to 2007, the lowest level since USDA began collecting this data 1945. The RFA said the new report is one more addition to the mounting body of evidence that proves increased ethanol production has not resulted in expansion of total U.S. cropland or a decline in grassland and forest.
Over the past 30 years, and in particular in the past decade, ethanol production has quietly become increasingly efficient. From improvements in corn production to greater efficiencies at ethanol biorefineries, America’s leading renewable fuel is providing more with less.
Today was a busy day for ethanol and grain market data junkies. First, USDA released its June supply-demand estimates, which showed a downward revision to 2011 planted and harvested corn acres. Second, government data on April exports of ethanol and distillers grains was released, showing another record month of ethanol exports and huge shipments to Brazil.
Since its very inception, the global biofuels industry has unfairly been portrayed by some ardent detractors as a sector that creates an unavoidable “food vs. fuel” choice. Luddites and Malthusians have suggested that crop-based biofuels simply can’t provide significant volumes of energy for transportation without starving the world’s poor. Unfortunately, these extreme views of biofuels have sometimes been fortified by alarmist rhetoric and doomsday sound bites from leaders of major international organizations, quasi-governmental groups, and NGOs. Against this backdrop, it was quite refreshing to see two reports in the last week that highlight the extraordinary potential of biofuels to serve as agents of rural development and enhancers of food security in developing nations.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual Prospective Plantings report this morning, showing U.S. farmers intend to plant 92.2 million acres of corn, 76.6 million acres of soybeans and 58 million acres of wheat this year. The following is an analysis of the USDA Prospective Plantings report from Renewable Fuels Association Vice President of Research and Analysis Geoff Cooper.
This morning at the 16th Annunal National Ethanol Conference, I will be giving the State of the Industry Address, dicussing the successes the ethanol industry has had and challenges that are in front of us.
The USDA has released its February estimates of U.S. and global grain supplies. Some revisions, all of which were expected, slightly reduce USDA's estimates of leftover corn at the end of the marketing year. Let the wild claims and "alarm bells" ring from ethanol's detractors begin.
Environmental lawyer Timothy Searchinger’s ILUC hypothesis, already reeling, took another crippling blow today when Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has fallen to its lowest rate since the government began collecting data in 1988. Data from the Brazilian government clearly show that Amazon deforestation rates in Brazil have been plunging for the last seven years, and the 2010 rate is less than one-quarter of the rate experienced in 2004 when deforestation reached more than 10,700 square miles. All of this has occurred while U.S. biofuels production has increased dramatically (nearly 300% since 2004), proving once again that there is no correlation between U.S. ethanol output and deforestation. Will the ENGOs and regulators notice?
Today I will be speaking at the Cellulosic Biofuels & Biorefineries Summit this morning in Washington, DC. I plan to talk about key issues within the cellulosic community including the U.S.Department of Agriculture's Loan Guarantee program, investment into cellulosic ethanol and indirect land use and carbon accounting. Read my full remarks by clicking the link above.
Last week, NRDC’s Nathanael Greene noted my frustration with his organization’s hasty dismissal of new Department of Energy research that shows “…minimal to zero indirect land use change was induced by use of corn for ethanol over the last decade.” NRDC immediately attempted to trash the DOE work, which was conducted by seasoned scientists at the agency’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Nathanael went so far as to suggest it “tells us nothing about ILUC.” It’s interesting that NRDC could reach such a conclusion without actually ever having seen the study (it hasn’t been published yet), without ever having laid eyes on the raw data underlying the analysis, or without ever having experimented with the methodology that ORNL used.
Since a polemic paper from environmental attorney Tim Searchinger was released in February 2008, a false notion that American ethanol production from grain was leading to Brazilian rainforest destruction has permeated discussions around ethanol's environmental contributions. Now, a team of researchers from the Department of Energy have analyzed real world data from the period of greatest American ethanol expansion and found this notion to be without merit.
Despite the fact that real-world data and events have disputed the ILUC theory at every turn (e.g., grain and oilseed exports haven’t fallen off, soybean acreage hasn’t decreased, livestock feed use remains steady, Amazon deforestation is decreasing, etc., etc.), EPA’s final rule for the RFS2 institutes a severe ILUC penalty against corn ethanol and other biofuels. But there’s a major problem with how EPA derived its ILUC penalties: the agency based the penalties on modeling scenarios where each individual biofuel was isolated and volumes of that biofuel were increased while other biofuel volumes were held constant. Of course, that’s not how the RFS2 works—the regulation requires simultaneous increases of several types of biofuels. When EPA modeled a scenario in which all biofuels volumes were increased simultaneously in accordance with RFS2 requirements, the amount of land use change was half of what it was in the cases where EPA isolated individual biofuels. If EPA had used this modeling case to develop its LUC penalties, the hit to corn ethanol would have been 10.8 g CO2e/MJ, rather than EPA’s estimate of 28.4 g/MJ. Such a reduction in LUC emissions means overall lifecycle GHG emissions for 2022 average corn ethanol would be 38% less than baseline gasoline emissions, rather than the 21% estimate finalized by EPA.
East Coast media has long had disdain for agriculture, and by extension, ethanol. Much of this dislike stems from a fundamental lack of understanding about the industries and issues important to rural America. While the Wall Street Journal has long been the standard bearer for such vitriol, when it comes to ethanol, the New York Times doesn't fall too far behind. The Times' latest anti-ethanol effort is disguised as a choice between good and bad energy subsidies. The Times argues that subsidies for wind and solar are critical to those industries' survival and our nation's goal of reduced oil consumption (we don't use oil to produce electricity, by the way). The Times then says investments in ethanol, which does replace oil directly in American gas tanks, is unworthy. To be clear, we should be increasing investments in all renewable energies, not picking and choosing winners. Supporting its position, the Times relies on many of the canards offered by ethanol critics about environmental concerns and land usage. My friends over at the Corn Commentary take exception with the Gray Lady's portrayal and perception of ethanol, and offer a rebuttal. Worth a read.