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The EPA is wrong when it comes to biodiesel

biodiesel
Since 2010, the growth of the biodiesel industry under the Renewable Fuel Standard has been a valuable part of our state’s economy.

Ongoing development of renewable fuels continues to be a core issue for the agriculture sector and the state of Minnesota. Over the years a variety of policies have been enacted that directly and indirectly support the production and usage of biofuels. One such measure was the establishment of a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which establishes minimum usage requirements to guarantee a market for biofuels.

ladd portrait
Dave Ladd

The RFS was created as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and was expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Under provisions contained in both pieces of legislation, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to waive the RFS requirements in whole or in part, in response to a petition by a state or a fuel provider, or on her own motion.

Unfortunately, it appears as though the EPA is poised to utilize its waiver authority to reduce biodiesel production to 1.28 billion gallons for 2014 and 2015.

The impact of government actions on our biodiesel industry is of particular interest to Minnesota agriculture. Since 2010, the growth of the biodiesel industry under the Renewable Fuel Standard has been a valuable part of our state’s economy, supporting 3,726 jobs and generating $606 million in economic activity statewide. Nationwide, biodiesel production has increased from about 25 million gallons in the early 2000s to a record 1.7 billion gallons in 2013.

Diverse resources used

According to the Biodiesel Board, biodiesel is produced using a broad variety of resources, many of them recycled and reclaimed oils and greases. This diversity has grown significantly in recent years, helping shape a nimble industry that is constantly searching for new technologies and feed stocks. In addition, it can be used in existing diesel engines without modification and is covered by all major engine manufacturers’ warranties, most often in blends of up to 5 percent or 20 percent biodiesel.

The EPA’s draft proposal is particularly challenging for biodiesel because excess biodiesel production from record volume of 1.7 billion gallons can be carried over and used for RFS compliance in 2014. As a result, the 1.28 billion gallon proposal could mean an effective market closer to 1 billion gallons.

At the very least, the EPA should establish an RFS volume that is at least consistent with last year’s anticipated production of 1.7 billion gallons. Under current EPA targets, biodiesel represents about 2.9 percent of all diesel fuel in the United States. Most modern diesel-powered engines allow fuel blends of at least 5 percent biodiesel and it will be years before biodiesel hits the 5 percent limit. By that time, advances in manufacturing may have raised that 5 percent threshold, pushing the “blend wall” out even further.

At this time, biodiesel is the only EPA-designated advanced biofuel (defined as a renewable fuel other than ethanol derived from cornstarch) with national commercial production. In practical terms, biodiesel is the only widely available biofuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by over 50 percent compared to traditional fuel sources.

It is somewhat ironic that the EPA has stated that biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 57 percent and up to 86 percent when compared to petroleum diesel yet the agency is proposing a reduction in biodiesel targets.

Furthermore, the increase in demand for soybean oil as a source for biodiesel has driven soybean production, decreasing the cost of soybean meal — a staple feedstock for the livestock sector. Both the National Pork Producers Council and the National Restaurant Association are supportive of continued investment in biodiesel.

Signals to investors

Virtually every source of energy — from coal to hydroelectric, nuclear to wind, solar and geothermal energy — has been benefited from incentives in its early years. The guarantee of biodiesel demand over a specified period of time has reduced the risk of investing in this renewable biofuel and moved significant investment capital into the marketplace. The proposed biodiesel reductions send signals to investors that could threaten future growth in the industry, while damaging prospects for other future alternatives to petroleum.

Dave Ladd, president of RDL & Associates, is a frequent commentator regarding public policy and the political environment. He served as a policy adviser to former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams. Ladd received his B.A. degree from Moorhead State University and his Masters in Public Administration from Hamline University. He is a native of Hutchinson, Minn., and lives in Woodbury.

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If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

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Comments (9)

I agree...

The proposed changes in the Renewable Fuel Standard not only cuts the national targets for biodiesel, but also targets for corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol. It's a step backwards that just makes us more dependent on oil and less on these locally produced, cleaner-burning fuels.

Obama's EPA

Another disappointment from Obama's EPA, which as far as I can tell is largely indistinguishable from Bush's EPA.

Biodiesel vs. ethanol

Biodiesel, made from recycled oils, is a good thing. It is completely different from corn-based ethanol, which overall is NOT good for the environment and promotes monoculture farming.
Corn-based ethanol is costly and environmentally destructive to produce.

Know your biofuels

Yes, biodiesel can be made from waste cooking oils. In fact, it can be made from almost any oil or fat. In Minnesota, most of the biodiesel is made from soybean oil. That's good, because the oil must be removed from soybeans to get the protein-rich meal that's both people and livestock can use as food. There is not a huge market for soy oil, so making biodiesel out of the excess oil makes good sense. One small plant in Itasca, MN is making biodiesel from used waste oils.

Corn-based ethanol is not costly. It's much cheaper than gasoline, burns cleaner, is largely renewable and is a MN-based product. We can make about a billion gallons a year. After the ethanol is extracted from the corn starch, the remaining protein becomes a valuable feed for livestock called DDGs.

Ethanol

Is no longer as destructive or as bad environmentally as originally claimed. Buttonless also shows great promise. My guess is the genesis of these rules is from petroleum based concerns.

corn ethanol

Ethanol does not promote monoculture farming at all and it has not been shown to be costly or environmentally destructive to produce. Farmers still rotate crops just as they have always done.

corn and soy

Corn is particularly water intensive to grow.
Corn and soy are GMO crops, which use large amounts of herbicides and are banned in Europe due to potential human health effects.
Our factory farms use corn and soy for feed. Factory farming produces food, but at what cost to human health and farm animal welfare?
Biofuels are part of a much larger picture of environmentally harmful practices that are sustaining our culture in the short-term but are unsustainable in the long-term.
It would behoove us to begin asking the right questions--how important are clean water, vibrant soil, and healthy foods? How can we reduce the amount of transport requiring diesel and other fuels, and be able to supply our most basic needs on the local level? How might climate change force us to do things differently--including how and where we grow/raise our food?
.

Biodiesel

Couldn't agree more! There is so much that's good about biodiesel --cleaner burning means better air; made from multiple sources of oil, especially soybeans; good economics for soybeans farmers and livestock producers; 5,000 Minnesota jobs; and improves tax base in the Minnesota communities where biodiesel is made. Why mess with success?

Corn ethanol is not a scam

It just doesn't make sense; either from an economic or environment viewpoint.