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Senators Ask EPA to Update Ethanol Science to Improve Trade

  • Wednesday, 26 June 2019 10:47

Ethanol Producer Magazine

June 25, 2019

By Erin Voegele

A bipartisan group of 11 senators led by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sent a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler June 25 urging the agency to update an outdated environmental analysis on ethanol in order to improve foreign sales opportunities.

The letter references a report released by the USDA’s Office of Chief Economist in April that found greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from corn ethanol are 39 percent lower than gasoline vehicle fuel, and perhaps as much as 43 percent lower, depending on the refining technology. 

“This summarized report is based on a 2017 USDA comprehensive analysis that highlights the significant reductions in emissions that have come from innovations in feedstock production as well as refining processes,” the senators wore. “It raises the question as to why the [U.S. EPA] still has not revised its assessment for corn ethanol since 2010, which only shows about a 20 percent reduction for conventional, starch-based ethanol.”

In the letter, the senators “request that EPA publicly announce its intent to review and incorporate the latest GREET modeling into an updated life cycle assessment for corn ethanol and to announce a timeline by which this will be completed.”

The senators note that the change “need not require further delay or arduous analysis” as it “is only a matter of EPA formally adopting these changes.”

If there are valid reasons the change cannot be done in a timely fashion, the senators ask that the agency remove obsolete information from its website and replace it in the interim with the USDA’s analysis.

According to the senators, the U.S. Department of Energy developed the GREET model nearly 30 years ago to measure the GHG emissions of vehicle fuels. The updated model is now used by more than 30,000 professional organizations worldwide, including the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Ford, General Motors, BP and PetroChina. EPA, however, does not currently use the updated model.

“Meanwhile, the EPA stands alone in its decade-old calculation having major implications for opening up new global markets for ethanol,” the senators wrote. “For example, until recently, Japan, which imports 99 percent of its ethanol, met those needs with Brazilian production based on Brazil’s low carbon intensity and their belief that U.S. corn ethanol did not meet their criteria for carbon intensity relative to gasoline. Not until a great effort was expended by the U.S. Grains Council in Japan to overcome the conflicting information generated by the outdated EPA model was the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry…persuaded that the latest science verifies U.S. ethanol is suitable for addressing Japan’s GHG reduction goals—creating new market opportunities for our farmers.”

The letter stresses the Brazil example is not an isolated case. While ethanol has been the fastest growing agricultural export during the past five years, the senators said the EPA’s old ethanol science is thwarting its advancements. Other nations look to EPA for technical information regarding GHG emissions on U.S. corn ethanol, wrote the senators.

“In the March 26, 2010, preamble to Renewable Fuel Standard implementing regulation, EPA committed to updating the GHG assessment for ethanol, affirmed that the science evolves, and pledged to incorporate the updated into formation into a new assessment,” the senators wrote. “The time has arrived to complete this responsibility.”

“We assert that there is little justification for EPA to maintain such an outdated calculation that otherwise could be easily corrected with existing, available analysis—and straightforwardly address an unnecessary obstacle to trade,” the continued.

In addition to Grassley and Durbin, the letter is signed by Sens. Joni Earnst, R-Iowa; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; and Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

The American Coalition for Ethanol has spoken out to applaud the letter. “ACE extends our gratitude to Senators Durbin and Grassley for leading this bipartisan effort to hold EPA accountable on this important issue. Unlike the Argonne GREET model, EPA has not reviewed or updated their original 2010 corn ethanol greenhouse gas (GHG) assessments,” said Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE. “Current data from the GREET model indicate that corn ethanol’s carbon intensity is almost 50 percent less than petroleum gasoline providing significantly more GHG reduction benefits than when the RFS was enacted a decade ago. Last year, ACE published “The Case for Properly Valuing the Low Carbon Benefits of Corn Ethanol” recommending, as is stated in the Senators’ letter today, that EPA refer to the latest U.S. Department of Energy GREET model for life cycle analysis of corn ethanol.

“Given the all hands-on deck nature of the climate change problem, agricultural and biofuel stakeholders continue to believe that governmental policies need to properly acknowledge the role that agriculture and biofuel can play in providing near-term solutions to offsetting U.S. GHG emissions,” he continued. “One of the most direct ways to capitalize on agriculture’s ability to mitigate GHG emissions is to properly acknowledge the role U.S. farmers and ethanol producers are playing to dramatically reduce life cycle GHG emissions from corn ethanol by improving efficiencies, investing in technologies, and adopting sustainable agricultural practices.

“U.S. farmers are under tremendous financial stress from collapsing net farm income, rising expenses, ongoing trade tensions, weather-related disasters, and the undermining of the [RFS] with demand destroying small refinery waivers,” Jennings said. “Updating EPA’s decade-old modeling would be a step in the right direction to underpin the scientific and economic opportunity for ethanol use to increase via low carbon fuel markets.”

A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from Durbin’s website.

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