The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is far from over on discrediting biofuels as part of their mandated policy known as the Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS). For the past year, the ethanol industry has been embroiled in a fight for proper reflections of biofuel’s indirect greenhouse gas emissions, aka indirect land use. Now, CARB has created a working group to study soil sustainability provisions of biofuels. The specific crops under review at this time include corn ethanol, sugarcane ethanol, wood based fuels, palm oil, and soy biodiesel.
Today, CARB held a meeting to discuss this topic. In the proposed agenda, CARB offered several “loose” categories to be considered including carbon content, erosion, crop rotation, nutrition/chemical use, productivity, and crop expansion. I’ll kick myself for saying this, but I’m surprised they didn’t include water.
While I’m not sure what exactly has driven this new LCFS dimension of discussion, I can speculate that several recent events have in part led to this recent course of action. One is the Dead Zone/hypoxia issue which resurfaced when several scientists began calling the Dead Zone a bigger environmental catastrophe than the BP Oil spill. Corn and corn ethanol are being charged for creating the Dead Zone through its use of pesticides and fertilizers used in production.
Second, Friends of the Earth has been vocally opposed to how corn is produced and to corn ethanol (actually, to all current and future biofuels) and is currently engaged in a national campaign to end production of corn ethanol and reassess corn production methods.
While I do believe that soil sustainability is an area to be reviewed in general, I do not agree that you can regulate biofuels policy on this issue. Not only that, but like indirect land use, a theory not based in sound science, petroleum is not being held to the same standards. No where on the agenda is a discussion of the soil, or land implications of global petroleum production.
Last week, the University of Nebraska finally acknowledged that there are in fact, “indirect land use” effects of petroleum. Mainly transportation and war and released a study that examined these possible effects. More studies need to be conducted on this topic and I think they will.
As California moves to create more LCFS provisions on biofuels, consumers must call for CARB to consider the environmental implications of petroleum production. For the past three months, we have seen, first hand, some of the implications of oil with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill compliments of BP.
But we don’t need a spill to have land impacts of petroleum. Drilling, chemicals and water are all elements of production. What about the emissions spewing from our refineries? CARB has created a list of hazardous chemicals that can’t be used in biofuels production, but where is the list of chemicals that can’t be used in petroleum production as part of these provisions?
I realize that I sound like a broken record when I say this, but you cannot hold biofuels up to a standard that can’t be achieved, and not hold petroleum up to the same standard. If our goal is to produce more environmentally and sustainable fuels, then let’s do just that.