CLIMATE CHANGE ROUNDUP: Obama Administration Announces Ethanol Industry Bailout

By Published On: May 8, 2009

In a move that emulates California, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency May 5 proposed new rules to govern a federal renewable fuel mandate. The rule establishes greenhouse gas emissions limits based on life-cycle analysis. The analysis, according to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, is set to be similar to what the California Air Resources Board’s used in its low-carbon fuel standard (Circuit, April 24, 2009). Energy secretary Steve Chu announced that the Department of Energy is rushing to provide the biofuels industry with $785.5 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money. Chu said the money would be focused on “next generation biofuels,” including new plants that make alternative fuels from waste and algae. Under EPA’s proposed rules, the renewable fuel industry is to begin making corn-based ethanol in a way that cuts greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional gasoline by 20 percent in 2010. The federal renewable fuel standard requires the fuel industry to sell 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022. The first 15 billion gallons can be made from corn, but the remainder must be made through advanced processes, like cellulosic- or algae-based technologies. “Corn-based ethanol is a bridge” to those advanced biofuels, Jackson said. In the proposal, EPA said it wants to ramp up the level of ethanol in motor fuel from 9 billion gallons last year to 15.2 billion gallons by 2012. Almost all of that would be made from corn. After that, EPA would require more advanced biofuels to come into the market until the full 36 billion gallon requirement was met. To help the industry meet that goal, both the Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Agriculture are pumping federal money into the renewable fuels industry and farms to help them reduce their use of fossil fuel energy. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA would be committing more than a billion dollars to help farmers cut their fossil fuel use by using renewable energy and to aid the ethanol industry, which is suffering economically due to the collapse in the price of oil. Vilsack said USDA would help the ethanol industry refinance investments in plants to preserve jobs within 30 days. Some of the money is slated toward helping ethanol plants use energy more efficiently and to employ renewable power instead of fossil fuel-fired power from the grid. * * * * President Obama dropped plans to push for an immediate phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons, a group of powerful greenhouse gases used as refrigerants, under the Montreal Protocol, the international stratospheric ozone protection treaty, reported the New York Times May 4. The decision comes as South Pacific island nations facing a sea level rise call for the ban under the ozone protection treaty. Proponents of their approach contend that the gases not only promote global warming, but damage the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Instead, the administration would like to cover the chemicals under federal climate change legislation and an expected international treaty on climate change set to be negotiated late this year in Copenhagen. * * * * Less than a quarter of the proven fossil fuel reserves can be burned and emitted between now and 2050 if global warming is to be limited to two degrees Celsius, according to a study published in the journal Nature April 30. “If we continue burning fossil fuels as we do, we will have exhausted the carbon budget in merely 20 years, and global warming will go well beyond two degrees,” said Malte Meinshausen, lead author of the study and climate researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The three-year long study for the first time, calculated how much greenhouse gas emissions can be emitted between now and 2050 and still keep warming lower than 2°C above pre-industrial levels--a goal supported by more than 100 countries. The scientists concluded the limit is 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide between the years 2000 and 2050. The world has already emitted one third of that in just nine years, the researchers found. The study concluded that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by more than 50 percent by 2050 relative to 1990 levels, if the risk of exceeding 2°C is to be limited to 25 percent. “Only a fast switch away from fossil fuels will give us a reasonable chance to avoid considerable warming,” said Meinshausen. “We shouldn’t forget that a 2°C global mean warming would take us far beyond the natural temperature variations that life on Earth has experienced since we humans have been around.”

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