Meeting Clean Transportation Targets Requires the Use of Biofuel

  • Wednesday, 14 February 2024 08:13

ED Column Web new 1 2

By Brian Werner

When greenhouse gases (GHGs) from transportation became the single largest source of emissions contributing to climate change, both in Minnesota and nationally, state lawmakers rightly began examining policy options that could reduce GHG emissions, improve air quality, and provide statewide economic benefits.

Those efforts ramped up this past year with the formation of the  Minnesota Clean Transportation Standard (CTS) Work Group.  This legislatively-established, Governor-appointed Work Group included a wide range of businesses and nonprofits that were tasked with preparing consensus recommendations for developing and implementing performance-based incentives to reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of all fuels used for transportation in Minnesota.

As a member of the Work Group, I had the opportunity to serve as one of 40 members charged with making recommendations to the state legislature on a CTS policy that could be successfully implemented in our diverse state. We made that recommendation earlier this month with 36 of the 40 participants doing the hard work of reaching a compromise that is best for all of Minnesota. It was disappointing to see so much focus upon release of the final report on the four dissenting organizations that pointed their fingers at rural communities and biofuels while refusing to make the necessary compromises to reach a consensus.

The majority consensus results of the Work Group report were clear: we cannot meet CTS targets for GHG emissions reductions without the use of biofuels. That’s because Minnesota’s farmers and biofuel producers already produce a readily available, lower carbon transportation fuel that is reducing emissions from vehicles on the road today. And as higher blends like E15 and E85 become more commonplace in the market, biofuels will contribute to an increasingly larger share of emissions reductions. 

Despite the outlier studies cited by the four dissenting organizations, the overwhelming majority of research conducted by USDA, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard University, and the California Air Resources Board all confirm that ethanol lowers greenhouse gas emissions by  between 44 to 52 percent  compared to traditional gasoline.

And when it comes to GHG reductions from biofuel, we’re only scratching the surface. With the increased adoption of low-carbon farming practices, incorporation of renewable electricity and energy efficiency at biofuel production facilities, and the use of carbon capture technologies, the renewable fuels industry in Minnesota is rapidly on a path to net-zero or net-negative carbon emissions by 2050. 

Any approach that insists on only one fuel or technology as a silver bullet risks leaving air quality benefits on the table. If we want to be serious about addressing carbon emissions from transportation, we need to lean into realistic solutions that recognize the fact that large numbers of internal combustion vehicles will remain on the road for decades to come. As U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack  said,  “We’re going to have cars that use ethanol for a long, long time.” 

To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, we need more low-carbon options, not less. A Minnesota CTS program may or may not be signed into law this year, but either way Minnesota’s renewable fuel producers will be helping to deliver a lower-carbon transportation future.

This column first appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Worthington Daily Globe.