Multiple-Authorship blog platform on issues related to sugarcane cultivation and industrial applications
Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol producers submitted formal comments to the EPA Tuesday that expressed the industry’s serious concerns about the agency's proposed standards for the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). UNICA's (The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association) comments encourage the EPA to revise the proposed extreme and unjustified reductions in statutorily-specified volume requirements for advanced biofuels. The comments urge the EPA to amend the proposal to set volume targets that are in line with Congress’ and the Administration’s twin goals of replacing fossil fuels with advanced biofuels and other renewable fuels, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation fuels.
You can read UNICA's full comments here.
The Environmental Protection Agency shocked the biofuels community in November by proposing to slash consumption requirements for advanced biofuels in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Even though advanced biofuel producers easily exceeded EPA’s 2013 target of 2.75 billion gallons, and in fact delivered nearly 3 billion ethanol-equivalent gallons of advanced renewable fuel last year, EPA suggests setting the 2014 requirement at 2.2 billion gallons – a 20 percent cut. EPA is currently accepting public comments on their proposal. Next week, Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol producers – under the auspices of UNICA, our trade association – will submit formal comments expressing the industry’s profound concerns about EPA’s unnecessary and unjustified proposed reductions in statutorily-specified volume requirements for advanced biofuels. UNICA’s well-founded comments (more than 80 footnotes and growing!) will urge EPA instead to set volume targets that are in line with Congress’ and the Administration’s twin goals of replacing fossil fuels with advanced biofuels and other renewable fuels, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation fuels.
Here’s a preview of a few key points we plan to stress with environmental regulators.
Our Principal Concerns
First, UNICA believes implementing the proposal would mark a significant step backward from recent progress toward increased use of efficient, renewable biofuels with low lifecycle GHG emissions. Insofar as the proposal prioritizes more carbon intensive fuels over cleaner, more efficient advanced biofuels like sugarcane ethanol, it is contrary to the purposes of the Clean Air Act and to the President’s Climate Action Plan. Second, UNICA believes that all or a significant portion of the proposed reductions for advanced biofuels and total renewable fuels are beyond the scope of EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act. Congress, as evidenced by the legislative history and reaffirmed by courts, intended the RFS to force technological change through increased production and mandatory use of biofuels.
A Dependable Partner
Brazilian sugarcane producers have made a long-term commitment to providing clean, renewable advanced biofuels to meet energy and environmental goals in Brazil and the United States, along with many other countries. We have invested billions in increasing production and infrastructure to meet the expected demand for clean renewable fuels. As a result, the Brazilian sugarcane industry has more than adequate capacity to help achieve the statutorily-mandated volumes of advanced biofuel. We continue to lead the way in showing that higher blends of ethanol (hint: we’ve been using E25 in Brazil for three decades!) are not only possible but also beneficial to the environment and economy.
Benefits of Advanced Biofuels
Multiple studies confirm that sugarcane ethanol is the most efficient and environmentally responsible advanced renewable fuel in widespread commercial use today, generating precisely the type of environmental benefits Congress sought to promote in carving out a preference for advanced biofuels in the RFS and that President Obama seeks to further in his Climate Action Plan. To be consistent with both Congressional intent and Administration policy, EPA should avoid taking steps—such as those in this proposed rule—that prioritize other, less GHG-efficient fuels over more GHG-efficient advanced biofuels like sugarcane ethanol.
EPA Cannot Ignore Sugarcane Ethanol
Congress did not in any way distinguish between ethanol and non-ethanol biofuels when it created the advanced biofuel category in the RFS. The statute treats both equally and indistinguishably as the same thing – advanced biofuels. EPA has previously determined that sugarcane ethanol is an advanced biofuel because of its low lifecycle GHG emissions, a conclusion it reaffirmed most recently in its 2013 RFS final rule. There is no basis in the statute for discounting, excluding, or otherwise ignoring sugarcane ethanol volumes or other ethanol advanced biofuel volumes in calculating the advanced biofuel required volumes for 2014, as EPA has proposed to do. When Congress specified volumes for the subcategories of advanced biofuels (like cellulosic biofuels and biomass-based diesel) but not others, it deprived EPA of discretion to create and either favor or discriminate against other subcategories. EPA must consider and include the available volumes of ethanol advanced biofuels when calculating the total required volume of advanced biofuels to be used in 2014.
Insufficient Authority under the Clean Air Act
To justify its proposed reduction of the total renewable fuel volume from 18.15 billion gallons to just 15.21 billion gallons, EPA cites two statutory provisions in the Clean Air Act: (1) the cellulosic waiver authority and (2) the general waiver authority. While no one contests the necessary reduction of cellulosic biofuels obligations to reflect lower-than-anticipated production of such biofuels, EPA grossly exaggerates this authority – and engages in regulatory gymnastics – in proposing a much larger than allowed reduction in the RFS. First, the “cellulosic waiver provision” cannot support the reduction because EPA’s authority under that provision is limited to reducing the required volumes of advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel by, at most, an amount equivalent to the projected production shortfall for cellulosic biofuel. For 2014, EPA projects a cellulosic biofuel shortfall of roughly 1.73 billion gallons, yet it proposes to cut required total renewable fuel volumes by 2.94 billion gallons—1.21 billion gallons more than the cellulosic biofuel waiver authority authorizes under any circumstance. Second, the “general waiver provision” cannot support the reduction because EPA has not even attempted to show that severe economic or environmental harm, at least one of which EPA must show to justify a cut, would result if the statutorily-mandated volumes were required. Adding insult to injury, EPA proposes a reading of “inadequate domestic supply” that stands Adam Smith on his head and defines inadequate supply to mean inadequate demand. What’s next? Changing the rules of soccer so red cards now count as goals? Let’s get real: Congress meant for the RFS to be technology-forcing. Otherwise they would have called it Renewable Fuels Suggestion.
The Bottom Line
The proposed rule will inevitably have two effects. First, it will reduce investment in, and production of, advanced biofuels at a critical time, as investors and producers reevaluate EPA’s commitment to the standards and goals Congress clearly set out in the RFS program. Second, by reducing incentives to produce and supply advanced biofuels, the proposed rule will increase the use of less-eco-friendly fuels, increasing GHG emissions and exacerbating the very environmental harms the law was meant to correct.
As environmental regulators consider the future of the RFS, we hope they’ll hear the chorus of voices from across the biofuels community urging common sense for America’s renewable fuel policy and urging EPA to ensure that a continued supply of reliable and renewable sugarcane ethanol keeps flowing into U.S. vehicles. If you agree with us, make sure that EPA regulators hear your concerns.
The debate over America’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), and the role that advanced biofuels like sugarcane ethanol play in meeting our clean energy goals, has largely focused on what the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) appropriate volume targets should be moving forward.
But centering the debate on volume targets for all biofuels has let two key benefits of advanced biofuels slip out of focus: the potential for non-corn ethanol to drastically cut lifecycle emissions compared to gasoline, and the ability of biofuel feedstocks to be sustainably grown without harming the environment.
Land-Use Advantages Compared To Corn
Let’s start with emissions reductions, arguably the most important imperative to fighting climate change. EPA certified sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel that cuts emissions 61% compared to gasoline after a careful lifecycle analysis of the entire production-to-consumption process in 2010.
Examining the “well-to-wheels” impact of this clean fuel shows sugarcane ethanol cut emissions from American drivers 2.2 million tons in 2012, equal to growing 57 million trees for 10 years. By itself, that’s impressive data, but the full sustainability sum is revealed when land-use benefits are included in the equation.
Sugarcane fields store roughly 60 tons of carbon per hectacre, including above and below ground and soil organic carbon. That is a significant amount of carbon sequestration potential, but it’s made even more impressive because unlike corn, sugarcane only needs to be replanted every six years. This reduces land tilling, cutting the amount of carbon released from the soil.
In turn, each hectacre of sugarcane produces around 7,000 liters (1,850 gallons) of ethanol, roughly twice the ethanol yield of corn. This means more energy is created on less land with less fuel burned to harvest the crops.
One step further along the production process, self-sufficient sugarcane mills in Brazil use leftover stalks and leaves (called “bagasse”) to power operations instead of fossil fuels, often producing enough power to sell clean electricity back to the grid. In 2010 alone, bioelectricity from these mills powered the homes of 20 million people.
Increasing Production Without Increasing Environmental Impacts
And it gets better. Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol production can continue to grow while still protecting its native ecosystems and rainforests. A recent analysis by the international think tank Climate Policy Initiative concluded “there is room to increase Brazilian agricultural production via productivity gains, at no apparent cost to environmental conservation.”
These key sustainability facts are important to keep in mind when considering Brazil as a reliable partner for supplying Americans with advanced biofuels. Indeed, Brazil has the potential to replace 14% of global transportation fuel demand without altering current sugar production.
Brazilian sugarcane ethanol plays a modest but important role supplying America with clean renewable fuel, but it also plays an equally important role in creating a healthier and cleaner planet. By 2050, global energy needs could double, potentially increasing emissions 80% – unless we continue to pursue low-carbon and environmentally sustainable fuel options.
As Congress and the EPA deliberate over the future of the RFS, we hope they’ll consider the entire sustainability story of this advanced biofuel in their decision and set volume targets that continue to encourage the production and consumption of all available biofuels.
Apparently, the current European Commission’s long term strategy is now formally not to have one.
On Wednesday, this Commission formally mapped out, in the first step in a long legislative process ahead, its much awaited perspective on what it thinks the European Union’s longer term climate abatement goals should be to 2030. This perspective is dubbed the ‘2030 Framework on Climate and Energy’.
The Commission proposed, as expected, no longer term extension or increase to the 10% renewables-in-transport target set for 2020 (that target will be achieved almost entirely by sustainably produced biofuels.) But it went one step further today and dropped an EU goal for reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in road transport.
Currently, under the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive, EU Member States are required to oversee a 6% carbon intensity reduction of fuels by 2020 versus a 2010 baseline; the law applies to suppliers of gasoline, diesel and biofuels used in road transport, and to gasoil used in non-road-mobile machinery.
So after 2020, the Commission thinks we can quit worrying about carbon emissions in transport. Great, I’m relieved to know.
But seriously, you’d expect the Commission, which is supposed to look out for the interests of all Europeans, not to play the shrinking violet in the face of pressure on such important transport and environmental issues.
Transport emissions account for 25% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions; and by 2020, transport will be the largest source of carbon emissions in the EU, according to the EU’s own forecasts.
The Commission has been feeling the heat in past months from certain Member States on high energy costs (which the region has had for years but which have become a political problem only recently because of Europe’s depressed economy) and from Big oil companies, many of which -- though certainly not all -- hate and moan about alternatives to oil.
By not proposing any renewables-in-transport target nor any new extension to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of road transport fuels in Europe, this Commission is effectively throwing up its hands on important environmental issues as it counts down its term, which ends later this year. Moreover, it is choosing to ignore recommendations in several reports, including some from the Commission itself, according to which, sustainable biofuels, like Brazilian Sugarcane ethanol, are still the one solution to curb carbon emissions in EU transport cost effectively, at scale, and doing so in an environmentally responsible way.
The Commission tried to explain itself, in a rather hollow way, by saying: “The focus of policy development should be on improving the efficiency of the transport system, further development and deployment of electric vehicles, second and third generation biofuels and other alternative, sustainable fuels …”. Nevertheless, we already know that electric cars can be as pollutant as fossil fuel based vehicles. And the incentives for advanced biofuels are simply not there.
It also claimed, again unsuccessfully, that “it is clear that first generation biofuels have a limited role in decarbonizing the transport sector.” That’s bunk.
The biofuels industry has proven through all sorts of sustainability efforts, as required by EU law, that sustainably produced biofuels are a better environmental alternative to gasoline and diesel. Brazilian sugar cane-based ethanol can achieve over 70% greenhouse gas emissions reductions versus fossil fuel– and that’s certified by independent authorities; it also causes minimal direct and indirect environmental impacts.
This Commission had an opportunity to lay out a necessary plan to address Europe’s longer term transport and environmental challenges by including such things as a longer term target for sustainable biofuels to give industry investment confidence. Judging by today’s proposal, it is still unclear how the Commission expects the EU to reach its goal to reduce GHG emission from transport by 20% in 2030, when it’s effectively pulling the policy incentive-rug out from underneath producers.
Fortunately there is much debate ahead on this matter.
This formal opening salvo from the Commission today is the start of a process that probably won’t reach a final conclusion until 2015. New Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and new European Commissioners (the heads of all the various EU departments, like energy) will takeover by the third quarter and all of this new blood will have, hopefully, fresh and informed perspectives on this matter.
A flavor of what is to come is scheduled for March 20-21 when the EU’s Environment ministers will meet to discuss the Commission’s plan announced today. Stay tuned.
With the European Commission days away from releasing its policy proposal on so-called 2030 climate and energy targets, it’s worth taking stock of how this position will negatively impact the decarbonization of the transport sector and how once again this Commission is failing to recognize the role of sustainable biofuels, no matter their potential to reduce GHG emissions.
The Commission, the EU’s executive which initiates all policy proposals at the EU level, is expected to release its 2030 Climate and Energy Package on 22 January. The Package will include a Policy Communication on 2030, looking at 5-6 scenarios and accompanied by an impact assessment, 2) a Proposal on ETS structural reform (introducing the principle of flexible reserve mechanism), 3) a Proposal on shale gas (it still remains to be confirmed whether this proposal, prepared by DG Environment, will be part of the Package or issued separately later on), 4) a Communication on Industrial Policy prepared by DG Entreprise.
So, a full proposal on targets will not be put forward at this stage. The Commission is, in fact, only issuing a non-binding Communication that will effectively trial-balloon its proposal to see how it floats with Member States.
It appears, based on media reports, that the Communication will suggest a carbon emissions reduction target of around 40% and will downgrade the target for the use of renewables to a non-binding target of perhaps 30% in 2030. It will not include any specific sub-target for the transport sector, despite the fact it is the sector that has experienced the fastest GHG emissions growth in recent years in Europe.
The reason seems to be that the Commission with the Communication only wants to trigger the debate and test the waters with the Head of States, ahead of their Summit in March before putting out a full proposal. Realistically, a proposal on targets cannot be expected earlier than 2015 and it seems fairly difficult to get all the 28 Member States to agree to common binding standards once again.
Yet, based on all the discussions and debate held in Brussels the past several months on this topic, biofuels will essentially be left out of the new 2030-targets. Therefore, even though the new mantra out of the Commission is all around advanced biofuels, the Commission somehow thinks advanced biofuel production will just happen -- and happen at meaningful scale -- without any kind of policy support that incentivize investors to risk their capital on new advanced biofuel technologies.
This is more proof of course about the lop-sided and unhealthy debate around biofuels, which has generally succeeded in painting all biofuels – even the most sustainable ones, like Brazilian sugarcane ethanol – with the same brush.
The EU currently has three climate change abatement targets: one for a 20% carbon emission reduction relative to a 1990 baseline, another for a 20% increase in energy efficiency, and one for a 20% share of renewable as a share of overall EU energy use, all by 2020. And, of course, within the 20% renewable target there is currently a 10% renewables-in-transport target, which will be met mostly by biofuels.
One can argue that the renewables-in-transport target is not only about biofuels, and electric vehicles should also contribute, but let’s be realistic: electric vehicles can be carbon intensive if they rely on coal and other fossil-fuel base load to be fueled. In addition, these vehicles are expected to account for only 2% of the passenger car fleet by 2030, according to a study carried out by E4Tech published in November 2013.
Biofuels are key in the decarbonisation of the EU transport sector – as pointed out by various recent reports.
Nevertheless, there will not be a legislative proposal on targets until 2015, and probably even when a proposal is there, it will not include any specific measures for the transport sector and biofuels will therefore be excluded.
This approach is at odds with all the efforts deployed by the Commission since October 2012 to tackle the indirect effects of biofuels. Why should we bother about the ILUC proposal if biofuels are not intended to be part of the post-2020 EU energy mix?
On top of all this, the Energy and Environment Committees in the Parliament just voted (clearly too late for this to be taken into consideration in the coming Package) on an own-initiative report asking the Commission to extend the existing strategy until 2030 with binding targets in the three areas above mentioned. This shows how much the Commission and Parliament positions are already far away one another before the formal process has even started.
How will the Commission really move forward to decarbonize transport when it’s leaving out the best option available?
How are sustainable biofuels, such as Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, which present high GHG emission savings and little to no environmental impact, to be invested in by industry at scale when there are no policy targets?
These are quite crucial questions for the future of the European climate policy to which the 2030 Package is not answering while the political scenario around the issue has never been more confused and confusing.
More to come…may be in 2015…