EPA Underestimates Emissions from Palm-Based Biofuels

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Scientific and environmental groups announced that they will submit comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to EPA’s proposed finding that palm oil should not qualify for inclusion in the EPA’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) this morning.  While the organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National Wildlife Federation, agreed with the EPA’s conclusion not to include palm oil, they argued that EPA’s analysis actually underestimates the greenhouse gas emissions of palm oil and the serious environmental problems that palm cultivation creates.

“The emissions of palm oil based biofuels substantially exceed the emissions from conventional petroleum diesel,” said Dr. Jeremy Martin, Senior Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Despite the technical aspects of the decision, it may be one of the most critical climate and environmental decisions that the Obama administration will make, with thousands of square miles of rainforest, and the corresponding tons of greenhouse gas emissions, at stake.

The EPA’s deadline for comment submission is today, Friday, April 27, and has been pushed back twice due to lobbying from the palm oil industry.  The EPA invited comments in response to the EPA’s Notice of Data Availability (NODA), which analyzes palm oil used as a feedstock to produce biodiesel and renewable diesel.  EPA’s analysis found that palm oil-based biodiesel fails to meet the minimum qualifying standard of 20% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum based diesel for the RFS, as well as the 50% greenhouse gas emissions reduction to qualify as a renewable diesel.

The EPA is under pressure to reverse this finding from lobbying groups aligned with the Indonesian, Malaysian, and Chinese palm oil industry, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other right-wing organizations that are ideologically opposed to the Renewable Fuels Standard, yet are contradictorily lobbying the EPA to include palm oil under the RFS government mandate.

“It is a disturbing development to see a politically motivated group like ALEC join forces with the shadowy palm oil lobby from Malaysia and Indonesia as well as with huge agribusiness companies Cargill and Wilmar to pressure the EPA to overturn what is supposed to be a science-based decision made in the best interests of the American people,” said Laurel Sutherlin, with the Rainforest Action Network.  “The question the EPA is tasked with answering is whether biofuels made with palm oil meet our nation’s greenhouse gas requirements as a renewable fuel. The stark reality of the impacts of palm oil plantation expansion in Southeast Asia, where nearly 90% of the world’s palm oil comes from, makes it clear that it does not.”

Rainforests are among the largest natural storehouses, or sinks, of carbon on earth and palm oil has quickly become one of the leading drivers of rainforest destruction in the world today, making palm oil production a globally significant source of carbon pollution.  Deforestation in Indonesia alone contributes more carbon to the atmosphere than all the transportation sector in the US combined.

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Triple Pundit
Alexandra Stark
Friday, April 27, 2012

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