By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq
Does a fanatical fixation on an advanced biofuel fiction do anything to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions today? Based on the clear and convincing evidence provided by science, the answer is a resounding no. This particular work of fiction I am referring to is the malarkey contained in the 2016 Climate Solutions and Economic Opportunities report (CSEO Report 2016) by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB), which was issued on July 21.
The CSEO Report 2016 merely gave lip service to biofuels. If its vacuous and shallow analysis of the actual use of biofuels in Minnesota and the evolution toward advanced biofuels is meant to serve the Governor and his Cabinet, then it was a waste of paper.
The truth is, the CSEO Report 2016 sets forth a delusional vision of advanced biofuels that is far removed from reality. Waiting for the fulfillment of this delusional vision is as good as handing the petroleum industry a blank check.
And that check will be paid by present and future generations and through further degradation of the environment as the petroleum industry is projected to supply carbon intensive fuel well into 2040.
The EQB is comprised of commissioners from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Employment and Economic Development and the purpose of the CSEO Report 2016 was a call to action to further reduce GHG emissions in Minnesota.
Perhaps the only thing positive of the CSEO Report 2016 was the unity within the Administration to making more progress in reducing GHG emissions. The subject matter and jurisdiction of key commissioners, for instance, appeared to align with the issue of emissions.
But here are some examples of the flawed assumptions in the report that omitted some basic yet critical and essential science surrounding biofuels and lifecycle GHG emissions.
First, to be clear, the report does acknowledge the role of biofuels in displacing carbon intensive, finite fossil fuels.
On page 7, it states “Minnesota energy sources include wind, solar, biomass, and hydro” and makes a connection between “homegrown, renewable resources” and their uses, which include “vehicle fuel.” But that connection is quickly lost or forgotten in subsequent sections.
In the real world, the connection between biofuels and GHG reduction is clear and supported by sound science. Failure to connect the dots between biofuels and GHG emission reduction is akin to adhering to the theory the earth is at the center of the solar system.
The EQB need only turn to the analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to gain greater insight into emission savings from biofuels.
Argonne’s comprehensive analysis of lifecycle GHG emissions examines all stages of biofuel production including growing and harvesting biomass (e.g., corn, grasses), making biofuel and the combustion of biofuels in vehicles. Argonne’s data show GHG emissions for ethanol are from 44 percent to 95 percent less compared to gasoline.
Thus, the more petroleum that is displaced with biofuels, the greater the GHG emission reductions in the transportation sector.
But, according, to the CSEO Report 2016, biofuels will not have a positive impact on reducing transportation sector emissions.
For example, on page 18, it concludes that future emission reductions will ONLY be achieved through fuel efficiency. What about increasing the use of fuels with lower GHG emissions? Surely any environmental board serious about reducing emissions can see the benefits of fuel efficient vehicles using greener fuels.
Shouldn’t the opportunity to further reduce emissions with biofuels, such as E15 be embraced and acted upon in an expedited manner?
Instead, the only time biofuels have a role to play, according to the report, is when it’s an advanced biofuel. This astounding, flawed and irresponsible conclusion could lead to flawed policy recommendations that would undermine efforts to actually reduce GHG emissions.
Indeed, it is as though conventional biofuels, which is in almost every gallon of gasoline consumed in Minnesota, has done nothing to reduce emissions.
Here are some metrics to put the last assertion into perspective. According to an analysis conducted by Dr Steffan Mueller from the University of Illinois, E10 reduces 712,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions annually in Minnesota. If E15 became the new standard in Minnesota, annual emission reductions would total 1.07 million metric tons. This is the equivalent of removing 225,895 vehicles a year.
The incremental number of tons of GHG emissions reduced when going from E10 to E15, based on the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator, is equivalent to 90 wind turbines.
On a more macro level, California's Life Cycle Associates concluded that the federal Renewable Fuel Standard reduced GHG emission by 354 million metric tons from 2008 to 2015. That is equivalent to removing annual emissions from 74 million cars. Note, Life Cycle Associates is the same entity that completed studies used to establish fuel carbon pathway intensities for California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
But such data or that from Argonne are not found in the report nor the complete strategies document. Absent this type of information, how can the Governor and his Cabinet make truly informed decisions?
To act upon the Report alone would undermine progress that is being made to reduce transportation sector GHG emissions with biofuels. Instead, acting upon the science of biofuels holds great potential to create new opportunities for reducing GHG emissions today and well into the future.
In short, the CSEO Report 2016 rings hollow with respect to biofuels and at best is a distraction from the real work at hand. It missed an incredible opportunity to connect the dots for the Governor and his Cabinet.
Even more critical, the EQB commissioners hold the potential to facilitate cost-effective opportunities to further cut GHG emissions.
There is still time, however, for the Governor and his Cabinet to get this biofuel GHG analysis and some results-oriented policy positions back on track.
Embracing the science of biofuels and actualizing their potential can provide an economic boost, help consumers save money at the fuel dispenser, strengthen our collective energy security and drive down GHG emissions. We strongly encourage Governor Dayton and his Cabinet to embrace the science of biofuels and we stand ready to work with him and his Cabinet to actualize the biofuel benefits today.