Biofuels

Joint Statement re: 2021 Revisions to Biomass Plan Development Guidelines (Japan's Feed-in-Tariff)

Japan’s Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry’s (METI) issued revised “Business Plan Development Guidelines” for biomass power generation under the feed-in-tariff on April 1st, 2021. The undersigned organizations found the revisions inadequate regarding climate change and biodiversity and urge the speedy adoption of greenhouse gas emission limits and stronger criteria regarding the environmental sustainability of biomass fuel.

Background

In October 2020, the Japanese government announced a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. However, the feed-in-tariff renewable electricity incentive program, which began in 2012, includes no assessment of greenhouse gas emissions. We have particular concerns about biomass power generation, as this form of thermal power generation has potential impacts on forests, ecosystems and biodiversity, and has emissions of greenhouse gases throughout its lifecycle. The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under METI convened a “sustainability working group” which has held deliberations regarding the sustainability of biomass fuel under the feed-in-tariff. Unfortunately, the guidelines for biomass generation did not undergo significant changes from last year, and lack any sort of greenhouse gas emissions limits, potentially making it more difficult to achieve Japan’s 2050 climate target, protect forests or further the sustainable use of forests.

Japan’s rapid expansion of biomass imports has drawn international concern. In February 2021, more than 500 academics issued a letter (English, Japanese) to Prime Minister Suga and other world leaders warning of deforestation from the use of biomass fuel. In addition, in September 2020, 17 environmental organizations from the United States sent a letter (English, Japanese) to the Japanese government asking for wood pellets to be removed from the feed-in-tariff due to concerns about their impacts on American forests.

Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Limits Needed

The current biomass guidelines lack any limits for greenhouse gas emissions. To address climate change, there needs to be a strict upper limit on lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions limits covering all biomass fuel types. The combustion of biomass originating from forests (primarily wood pellets and wood chips) is especially problematic as it rapidly releases carbon stored in the forests into the atmosphere and also risks the release of carbon accumulated in the soil over a long period of time. Even if forests regrow completely after logging, the time period for this can range from decades to more than one hundred years, so it cannot be said that forest biomass is carbon neutral.

In addition, in cases where the production of biomass fuel causes changes in land-use, including conversion of forests, emissions will be even greater. Furthermore, most of the biomass projects are using fuel imported from overseas and have high greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. We strongly urge the Sustainability Working Group to adopt a strict greenhouse gas emission standard this year in order to contribute towards the 2050 carbon neutrality target.

Palm Oil Should be Removed from the Feed-in-Tariff

We welcome the change in guidelines that limits new biomass fuel types to be included in the feed-in-tariff to “inedible byproducts.” However, we note that palm oil, an “edible primary product,” is still included. This is a major contradiction and palm oil should be removed from eligibility. Under the guidelines, only palm oil that demonstrates sustainability with RSPO or RSB certification can be used. However, neither of them are able to solve the problem of competition between fuel and food and additionally, there are no greenhouse gas thresholds under RSPO criteria.

Sustainability Standards Needed for All Biomass Fuels

After two years since the start of the Sustainability Working Group, there is now a requirement to obtain sustainability certificates for palm oil and palm kernel shells (PKS). However, despite the feed-in-tariff for biomass overwhelmingly supporting the burning of wood, there has not even been any consideration of standards to protect forest ecosystems and biodiversity. There are many important issues to address including protecting forests’ long-term stores of carbon, preventing the conversion of natural forests to tree plantations, stopping forest loss and degradation from logging, preventing the destruction of forest habitat, protecting biodiversity, and more.

In addition, despite the fact that the guidelines specify that certifications for imported woody biomass fuel are required, in reality there have been problematic examples of plants which are operating without forest sustainability certificates and with only proof of legality. A survey found some cases of only “chain of custody” certificates that lack the corresponding “forest management” certificates needed to cover issues related to sustainability in the forests the fuel was sourced from.

To solve this problem, the guidelines need to clarify what is meant by certifications for woody biomass. Deliberations and the implementation of sustainability standards for all types of biomass fuel eligible under the feed-in-tariff are needed urgently.

Transparency and Certification System & Ensuring Compliance

Under these guidelines, power plants using palm oil biomass are required to publish the name of the third-party certificate, the amount of certified fuel, and the identification number for the certified fuel on their website. However, since outside parties cannot access information about the oil processing plant or plantation from the identification number alone, it cannot be said that it ensures transparency. To avoid serious problems like human rights abuses, deforestation and the development of peatlands, etc., it is necessary to require information regarding processing plants and plantations of suppliers to be made public. We ask for similar information disclosure for all types of imported forest-derived biomass.

In addition, at present there is no method for confirming compliance with the measures required by the guidelines under the feed-in-tariff. In the case of byproducts like PKS, where certification requirements are currently postponed, there is a condition requiring the disclosure of details about voluntary efforts and the origins of the fuel (such as the plantation it is from) on the firm’s webpage, but many power plants do not publicize this data. Also, last year the Fukuchiyama City and Maizuru City palm oil plants in Kyoto Prefecture, respectively, stopped operation or were cancelled, and both cases had inadequate consultation with nearby residents. In Fukuchiyama, the neighbors were afflicted with noise and odors which progressed to mediation over pollution-related issues. So as not to have situations like this, it is necessary to establish a system to ensure compliance with the guidelines and sustainability/legality certification with corrective actions for non-compliance.

Compliance Deadlines Should Not be Extended

Until now primary products (palm oil) were required to be certified by March 31, 2021, with a deadline for March 31, 2022 for secondary products (PKS), but they were both extended one year to March 31, 2022 and March 31 2023, respectively. The reason given was that COVID-19 made the procurement of certified products difficult, but extending the grace period means that fuel lacking sustainability certificates will continue to be used. As a result, affected biomass plants can be thought of as having a negative influence on forest ecosystems, biodiversity and human rights. Even with the pandemic, ensuring sustainability should be a basic pre-condition, so it is not necessary to extend this compliance period.

In fiscal year 2020, the discussions of the Sustainability Working Group in 2020 never reached a point where clear criteria regarding lifecycle greenhouse gas standards could be introduced. In addition, there were no deliberations about resolving the many problems related to the sustainability of woody biomass. We urge METI to reconvene this group in 2021 to discuss a greenhouse gas standard and sustainability standards for woody biomass, as both are urgently needed, especially for imported biomass fuel.

(organizations listed in alphabetical order)

Sponsoring organizations:

Biomass Industrial Society Network, Director Miyuki Tomari (Japan)
Friends of the Earth Japan (Japan)
Global Environmental Forum (Japan)

Endorsing organizations:

Australian Forests and Climate Alliance (Australia)
Bob Brown Foundation (Australia)
Dogwood Alliance (USA)
Environment East Gippsland (Australia)
Fridays For Future Sendai (Japan)
HUTAN Group (Japan)
Ichihara Coal Plant Concerns Group (Japan)
Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (Japan)
Kiko Network (Japan)
Maizuru City Western District Environmental Concerns Group (Japan)
Mighty Earth (USA)
Natural Resources Defense Council (USA)
Partnership for Policy Integrity (USA)
Pivot Point (USA)
Plantation Watch(Japan)
Rainforest Action Network (USA)
Sodegaura Residents Policy Study Group (Japan)
Soga Coal Power Plant Concerns Group (Japan)
Solutions for Our Climate (S. Korea)
Stand.earth (Canada)
Yokosuka Coal Plant Concerns Group (Japan)
Wilderness Society (Australia)
WWF Japan (Japan)

 


Rethinking Biodiesel Subsidies

On Monday, Congressional staffers had the opportunity to hear from experts about the climate, taxpayer, and food ramifications of biofuels and the biodiesel tax credit extension bill (H.R. Bill 3301) currently moving through Congress.

In a packed room, Former Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of Waxman Strategies, opened the session with remarks about his own journey. Waxman initially voted for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a mandate for fuel suppliers to mix a minimum percentage of ethanol into gasoline. But scientists have since proven the negative environmental impacts of biofuels as a result of indirect land use change, and Waxman now opposes the biodiesel tax credit.

“I am concerned that the passing of this extension will spur more land conversion, pollute America’s waterways and wildlife habitats, release more carbon, and support more loss of natural areas for soybean and other virgin oil production,” Waxman said at the briefing.

The first panelist, President Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense, discussed the financial burden for taxpayers. The biodiesel tax credit has cost taxpayers $12 billion from 2007 to 2012.  Alexander called biofuels subsidies a “triple threat” to taxpayers, via 1) the biodiesel tax credit, 2) production volume mandates such as the RFS, and 3) government spending on biomass programs.

 

Next, Dr. Stephanie Searle from the International Coalition on Clean Transportation spoke about the direct environmental consequences of biofuels production. Studies show that soy biodiesels are on par with or worse than fossil fuel diesel. Additionally, biofuels production drives global deforestation by increasing demand for palm oil. Dr. Searle posed the question: if it’s likely that biodiesels are worse for the planet than fossil fuels, is that a risk we are willing to take?

A graph comparing the carbon intensity of soy biodiesel to that of fossil diesel, compiled from U.S. EPA, California Air Resources Board, and European Commission studies.

Finally, Kelly Stone of Action Aid spoke to the human and food security consequences that come from biofuels production: land grabs from small farmers, increased food prices, and local environmental impacts such as water pollution. She concluded by calling for the phasing out of food-based biofuels and focusing efforts on real clean energy solutions.

To view the full presentation click here.


Field Dispatch: Activists Meet with Congressional Staffers on Dirty Biodiesel

This is a guest post from Mighty Earth Atlanta volunteer Colin Poe.

Following Mighty Earth’s Forests + Food ≠ Fuel event at SouthFace in May, event attendees and volunteers wanted to do more than just raise awareness on biofuels—they wanted to act!

During the event, attendees were encouraged to reach out to members of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee to oppose this legislation. Atlanta’s own Rep. John Lewis, of the 5th Congressional District, is a senior member of the committee, which has jurisdiction over the federal biodiesel tax credit. Historically, John Lewis has been reliably strong on environmental and climate issues, and we need to make sure he steps up as a champion in the movement to combat dirty biodiesel.

Heeding this call-to-action, a volunteer-led group of event attendees banded together over the next week to plan, create, and mobilize a petition delivery team. Their mission was simple yet effective: hand-deliver over 4,000 anti-biofuel petitions to Rep. John Lewis’s office in downtown Atlanta and request that he oppose the renewal of the dirty biofuel tax subsidy.

On June 14, despite demanding work schedules, dreadful Friday Atlanta afternoon traffic, and grumbling stomachs (this was their lunch break after all), members of the passionate volunteer-led anti-biofuels petition delivery team all converged on downtown Atlanta’s Five Point District to execute their mission.

Mighty Earth volunteer Colin Poe receives a tour of Rep. John Lewis' personal office after delivering over 4,000 petitions and leading the lobby meeting with one of the Congressman's senior staff members.

Upon arrival, the team was met by Lewis' Outreach Director. The team engaged with Lewis’s staff to emphasize the ongoing, negative effects biodiesel production has on the environment and the importance of not extending the dirty biodiesel tax subsidy as a means to prevent further environmental damage.

Following the delivery, Rep. Lewis’s team pledged to mail the petitions directly to his senior policy advisors in Washington, D.C.

In the week after the meeting, the Ways and Means Committee passed H.R. 3301, which includes an amendment to extend the biodiesel tax credit. We were deeply disappointed with this development, but will keep fighting. We can still nix it in the full House, in the Senate, or when the two chambers’ versions are merged in the reconciliation process.

As we seek to protect forests, prairies, and other natural areas as carbon sinks and as habitat, it is critical that we refrain from endorsing policies that support reckless agricultural expansion and fail to address the climate crisis. For the past three years, Mighty Earth has championed pro-environment reforms to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which currently mandates increasing biofuel consumption through 2022.


Biodiesel Tax Credit Advances Despite Major Environmental and Climate Concerns

Food-based biofuels fail to address climate crisis and contribute to environmental destruction in the U.S. and around the world

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite environmental and climate concerns about the use of food-based biofuels, in particular soy biodiesel, the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee voted to advance HR 3301, which provides a two year extension for the Biodiesel Tax Credit at a cost of approximately $3 billion annually.

In response, Clean Air Task Force and National Wildlife Federation have joined with Mighty Earth in calling for the tax credit to be scaled down to include only more environmentally friendly biofuels, such as waste-based or cellulosic. In its letter to legislators, the coalition voiced serious concerns about the harmful effects of food-based biodiesels, including water pollution in the Midwest and the destruction of natural prairie and forest ecosystems, which releases roughly the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as the biodiesel proponents claim that it saves. The letter also quoted a New York Times 2018 exposé that quantified biodiesel’s global impacts, noting that U.S. policy supports for biodiesel from virgin oils can be directly linked to “accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests and the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums.” 

“It is disappointing to see this shortsighted policy advance yet again,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Rose Garr. “Food-based biofuels are simply not a serious way to respond to the climate crisis, and the longer Congress pretends otherwise the worse shape we’ll be in. The environmental and climate concerns about food-based biofuels are well-established at this point. There is no excuse for continuing to support an environmentally damaging policy that does nothing to fight climate change and, in fact, can make the problem worse.”

The full letter is reprinted below.

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June 20, 2019

Dear Representative,

As organizations concerned about climate change, conservation, and food security, we are writing to communicate our concern about the potential reauthorization of the Biodiesel Tax Credit.

Although waste-based biodiesel appears to offer environmental benefits, most of the biodiesel consumed in the United States is made from virgin vegetable oils like soy, canola and palm. By increasing overall demand for vegetable oil, increased biodiesel production puts pressure on agricultural commodity markets and spurs increased agricultural production, which in turn causes the destruction of native habitats and pollutes clean water supplies[1]. Once emissions from related land use change are fully considered, the climate impact of food-based biodiesel is likely on par with or worse than that of fossil fuels[2]. In short, conventional, food-based biodiesel is neither a ‘green’ fuel nor an effective climate change mitigation tool.

A recent New York Times and ProPublica investigation (full article enclosed) into this issue revealed the links between U.S. policy supports for biodiesel and land conversion and climate emissions around the world, especially in southeast Asia. Due to food and land displacement issues, which provided large new markets for palm oil, U.S. policy supports for biodiesel from virgin oils can be directly linked to “accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests” and “the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, an explosion that transformed Indonesia into the world’s fourth-largest source of such emissions.”

As you consider whether and how to offer tax credit support to various technologies through the energy extenders package, we urge you to refrain from subsidizing food-based biodiesel. A better path may be to narrow the scope of the credit to support only truly advanced biodiesels made from ultra-low carbon and waste-based feedstocks, like those that are given preference by the Low Carbon Fuel Standard programs in California and Oregon. We encourage you to limit your support to the type of biofuels that have the potential to improve our environment and climate.

We hope that we will have the opportunity to further discuss this issue with you and your staff.

Sincerely,

Rose Garr
Mighty Earth

Jonathan Lewis
Clean Air Task Force

David DeGennaro
National Wildlife Federation

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[1] Searle, S. “How Rapeseed and Soy Biodiesel Drive Oil Palm Expansion.” The International Council on Clean Transportation. Briefing. July 2017; US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Biofuels and the Environment: The Second Triennial Report to Congress (2018 Final Report) (hereinafter “Second Triennial”), at 97 (https://cfpub.epa.gov/si/si_public_record_report.cfm?dirEntryId=341491).

[2] Hugo Valin, et al. 2015. The Land Use Change Impact of Biofuels Consumed in the EU: Quantification of Area and Greenhouse Gas Impacts, at 39 (Fig. 15).


Activists Tell Congress: Stop Supporting Dirty Biofuels

Last week, more than 80 concerned citizens gathered in Atlanta to join Mighty Earth, Dogwood Alliance, and more than 20 co-hosting organizations to mobilize against dirty bioenergy. The event, Forests + Food ≠ Fuel, featured a screening of the documentary Burned, an audience discussion on the environmental impact of burning food-based biofuels, and a call-to-action for Congress to oppose dirty biofuels.

Bioenergy is an emerging industry responsible for clearing old-growth forests at an alarming rate across the globe, releasing high levels of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, to create liquified fuel. Recent lifecycle analyses of biofuels have demonstrated the dangers their manufacturing pose to a healthy environment. Biofuels require heavy application of nitrogen fertilizer – a significant climate polluter – and contribute to the loss of native ecosystems through land conversion. Subsidies for biofuels encourage this destruction by increasing demand for arable farmland and driving rapid deforestation.

The Ways & Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering legislation to renew an expiring biofuels tax credit. As Ranking Member of the committee and Congressman to Georgia’s 5th district, Representative John Lewis has the capacity to steer the country away from dirty biofuels. At the event, attendees were encouraged to reach out to Congressman Lewis and other members of the Ways & Means Committee to oppose this legislation.

For the past three years, Mighty Earth has championed pro-environment reforms to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which mandates increasing biofuel consumption through 2022.

 


Former Congressman Waxman: New GAO Report Shows Biofuels “Not a Serious Solution to Climate Change”

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office has found that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has failed to meet its economic or environmental goals. In response, former Congressman Henry Waxman, now chairman of Mighty Earth, released the following statement:

“The new GAO report, which found that the Renewable Fuel Standard has had a ‘limited effect, if any, on greenhouse gas emissions,’ confirms what research and experience have already shown: biofuels are not a serious solution to climate change. Real climate champions should look to better solutions — clean energy, protecting forests and oceans, and more — instead of any further giveaways to big agribusiness.”

Representative Henry A. Waxman is the Chairman of Mighty Earth, where he continues his decades-long leadership for environmental protection. Previously, Henry spent 40 years serving in the House of Representatives. He served as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Energy & Commerce Committee and Committee on Oversight & Government Reform.


Industry Groups Still Misleading Public on Biofuels

In response to today's industry-sponsored press conference on biodiesels and the environment, Mighty Earth released the following statement from Campaign Director Margaret Hansbrough:

“The full carbon footprint of biodiesel is as bad or worse than that of dirty fossil fuels. Big Ag and its allies are ignoring a decade’s worth of academic research demonstrating the negative environmental impacts of using these crops for fuel. In addition to climate-changing emissions, the amount of land needed to grow these biofuels has meant less land for wildlife, food crops, or forests – both here in the U.S. and around the world.

“As U.S. lands are taken over by biofuel cultivation efforts, the ecosystems in our prairies, forests, and other natural areas disappear. Native vegetation, pollinators, and wildlife suffer. And as that land is tilled, it releases sequestered carbon from the soil and accelerates climate change. Finally, the harmful chemicals used to grow these biofuel crops at industrial scale contaminate our water supply.

“While we believe that waste-based and cellulosic biofuel production are worthy of government investment, any policymaker who is serious about tackling climate change and conservation should reject food-based biofuels.”


Dozens of Iowa-Based Groups and More than 91,000 People Ask Presidential Candidates to Reject Failed Biofuels Policy

Through both in-person and digital deliveries, all of the 2020 presidential candidates are hearing from more than 50 Iowa-based groups and leaders and more than 91,000 people concerned about the damage that our nation’s biofuels addiction is causing the environment.

“Unfortunately, both parties are largely blind to the catastrophic consequences of embracing biofuels,” said Rose Garr, campaign director. “At a time when our planet is already facing a climate crisis, our biofuels policies are increasing carbon emissions and destroying millions of acres of prairies, wetlands, and forests.”

The petition, which is being circulated online and on the ground in Iowa, includes more than 3,000 Iowan signatories.

“We’re seeing a groundswell of grassroots support here in Iowa — it’s clear that concerns about ethanol and biodiesel have been on people’s minds for quite a while,” said Anya Fetcher, lead organizer in Iowa City. “People have been feeling frustrated and helpless, because Big Ag often seems impossible to fight. But the goals of this campaign are tangible and attainable, with a strategy and tactics that people can understand and be a part of. That’s exciting!”

Fifty-six Iowa-based groups are also calling on the candidates to support energy and land policies that reduce biofuel crop production and shift the state to increased land conservation and clean energy generation.

The petition and coalition letter deliveries follow a series of panel discussions hosted in Davenport, Des Moines, and Iowa City last week. More than 150 Iowans gathered for the events, which focused on climate change and conservation in Iowa.

For the past three years, Mighty Earth has championed pro-environment reforms to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which mandates increasing biofuel consumption through 2022. In January, our activists in Iowa launched a new effort to educate political leaders and policymakers and explain why food-based biofuels are not a viable solution to climate change.


Biofuels Boondoggle: RFS Responsible for Massive Habitat Loss, Annual Climate Emissions Equal to 7 Coal Power Plants

New data released today by the National Wildlife Foundation shows that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has led to increased climate emissions as well as dramatic, unsustainable habitat loss in Iowa and throughout the United States.

“This new data empirically confirms that food-based biofuels are a climate disaster,” said local organizer Anya Fetcher. “The Renewable Fuel Standard is not a solution to climate change – it’s a giveaway to big agribusiness that has caused widespread environmental destruction in Iowa, the Midwest, and across the country.”

Mighty Earth Campaign Director, Rose Garr, said, “Voters in Iowa want real climate action, and that means more energy from wind and solar – and less from burning corn and soy. For years, pundits have claimed that the recipe for winning Iowa includes unconditional support for corn ethanol and soy biodiesel, but this data shows why many voters will be looking to the candidates to stake out a leadership position on this issue. We are optimistic that a bold, thoughtful leader will acknowledge that the RFS has failed and move us toward real climate solutions.”

Iowa is the country’s leading producer of ethanol and land conversion for new crop production has been especially rapid in southeastern Iowa. Iowa experienced an overall net increase of 487,434 acres of land converted to crop production between 2008 and 2016. However, land conversion for new cropland has occurred all across the United States. According to the study, prepared by researchers at the University of California-Davis, Kansas State University, and University of Wisconsin, 1.6 million acres of grassland, shrubland, wetland, and forestland were converted to crop production between 2008 and 2016 due to the RFS expansion in 2007. Over that same time period, the RFS mandates spurred an additional 1.2 million acres of land to remain in use for crop production instead of being retired or protected.

Taken together, the researchers note, the RFS has “stimulated an increase in total cropland area of 2.8 million acres, which accounts for 43 percent of the total cropland area change observed during the period.”

The RFS has reshaped the landscape of the United States, destroyed natural lands and habitats, and pumped more than 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year – and all without making any significant progress in the fight against climate change.

“Right now, the greatest threats to regional biodiversity are habitat loss and fragmentation,” said Jason Taylor, an Iowa City based Land Steward. “In many states these threats are attributed to urbanization; in Iowa, it historically comes from conversion of native prairies, wetlands, and woodlands into row crop. Ecosystems that used to support hundreds of species are being replaced by cropland that is intensively managed to support only one: either corn or soybeans.”

For the past three years, Mighty Earth has championed pro-environment reforms to the RFS, which mandates increasing biofuel consumption through 2022. In January, Mighty Earth’s activists in Iowa launched a new effort to pressure 2020 presidential candidates to reject food-based biofuels as a viable solution to climate change. Increased crop production for corn ethanol and soy biodiesel destroys native habitats and worsens the climate crisis. Biofuel production is also linked to agricultural runoff, which contaminates drinking water, burdens local water authorities, and destroys aquatic wildlife and habitat by feeding massive algal blooms, like the now-annual one in Lake Erie and the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.


Iowa activists urge presidential candidates to reject food-based biofuels

Iowa activists urge presidential candidates to reject food-based biofuels

Today, environmental advocacy organization Mighty Earth launched a new effort to urge the 2020 presidential candidates and political leaders to reject food-based biofuels as a viable solution to climate change. The campaign, called “Real Climate Action: Better than Biofuels,” is working with local volunteers, activists, and community leaders in Des Moines, Iowa City, and Davenport to draw attention to the environmental harm that biofuels cause and promote more effective climate solutions.

Historically, in Iowa, the top biofuel-producing state in the country, most presidential candidates and political leaders have been pressured to embrace policies supporting food-based biofuels. However, research has shown that diverting food crops for corn ethanol and soy biodiesel production has led to massive environmental destruction, water pollution, and actually increased climate emissions. Biofuels, long touted as an environmentally responsible policy, have proven to be a climate disaster.

“This is a prime chance for candidates to distance themselves from the green-washing efforts of corporate agribusiness and embrace a vision for the Midwest that includes real solutions to climate change,” said Rose Garr, senior campaign director at Mighty Earth. “Iowa is perfectly poised to be a leading producer of clean electricity from wind and solar power —  Iowa doesn’t need biofuels to have a vibrant economy.I hope that this year’s crop of candidates will see food-based biofuels for the mistake that they are and provide courageous leadership toward the solutions that we know will work.”

“There’s no getting around it: most biofuels are dirty. Even though they’re widely perceived to be sustainable, they cause more harm than good,” said Sarah Starman, lead organizer for Mighty Earth in Des Moines. “The continual expansion of corn and soy production not only accelerates climate change, but also destroys wildlife habitat in Iowa and across the Midwest. Iowa voters and caucus-goers will be looking for political leaders who acknowledge this reality.”

Since the Renewable Fuel Standard was enacted in 2007, more than 7 million acres of natural landscapes and wildlife habitat have been converted to corn and soy production in the United States. The climate emissions resulting from this conversion are equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide pollution from 34 coal-fired power plants. In fact, government and academic reports have shown that food-based biofuels are more polluting than fossil fuels when land conversion is considered.

Aside from causing climate pollution and habitat destruction, the intensive agricultural practices and increased scope of crop production for food-based biofuels also exacerbate agricultural runoff, contaminating  drinking water and burdening local water authorities. The Des Moines Water Works, for example, is spending $15 million to double the capacity of its nitrate removal equipment due to increased levels of this toxin in the city’s drinking water sources.

“I’m hoping that the presidential candidates and local political leaders take a hard look at the harm that biofuels have caused,” Starman said. “Our leaders should join us in calling for real solutions that are better for both the economy and climate in the long-term.”

*          *          *          *

Contact: Liviya James, liviya@mightyearth.org

About Mighty Earth: Mighty Earth is a global campaign organization that works to protect tropical forests, oceans, and the climate. More atwww.MightyEarth.org/Iowa.


Largest Set of Environmental Groups Ever Ask the EPA for Food-Based Biofuel Volume Reductions

Mighty Earth is proud to join nearly 20 organizations from around the world in asking the EPA to ensure that biofuel mandates are set at levels that don’t drive the destruction of native habitats – be that grassland in the American Midwest or tropical forests in southeast Asia. Increased crop production for corn ethanol, soy and palm biodiesel and other food-based fuels destroys native habitats, pollutes drinking water, and worsens the climate crisis. Most biofuels now on the market appear to be a cure worse than the disease.

Together we urge EPA to consider the following issues when finalizing its 2019 Renewable Volume Obligations rule:

  • Reducing the mandated volume of corn ethanol
  • Limiting the growth of vegetable oil-based biofuels
  • Implementing the severe environmental harm waiver
  • Ending unlawful RFS-induced land conversion and the destruction of native habitats
  • Assessing impacts under the Endangered Species Act

Below is a list of organizations who have signed onto the comments. View the full comments here

Action for Ecology and People’s Emancipation (AEER) Indonesia
ActionAid USA
ARA, Germany
Biofuelwatch
Clean Air Task Force
Dogwood Alliance
Earthjustice
EcoNexus
Estonian Forest Aid
Fern
Global Forest Coalition
Mighty Earth
National Wildlife Federation
Partnership for Policy Integrity
Rainforest Action Network
Rainforest Rescue
Sawit Watch
Sierra Club


The Environmental and Climate Case for RFS Reform – Congressional Briefing

You’re Invited! The Environmental and Climate Case for RFS Reform – Congressional Briefing presented by the Safe Climate Caucus

It’s been more than 10 years since the Renewable Fuel Standard became law. Once touted as a ‘green’ policy, many in the environmental, conservation, and scientific communities believe the opposite: that the RFS may have been a net-negative – even a disaster -- for the environment. Join us for a briefing to staff and the public and hear from experts on the RFS’ environmental impacts and what can be done to fix this broken policy.

Date: July 24, 2018

Time: 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Location: Cannon Building Room 421

Register here.

Featured Speakers:

  • Former Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of Mighty Earth
  • David DeGennaro, National Wildlife Federation
  • Dr. Tyler Lark, University of Wisconsin
  • Dr. Stephanie Searle, International Council on Clean Transportation
  • Kelly Stone, ActionAid USA

For more details, please see briefing invitation here.


EU takes major steps toward making biofuels more sustainable. However, continued support for biomass energy is critical flaw.

All eyes were on Europe this month, as the European Union released its much anticipated, long-negotiated rewrite of renewable energy policy.

The wait was worth it for those who care about protecting tropical forests and other at-risk ecosystems, as sustainable biofuel advocates scored major victories that put the European Union on track to use biofuels that aren’t contributing to massive deforestation.

The new policy will effectively ban the use of the most polluting types of food-based biofuels, including palm- and potentially soy-based biodiesel, both of which are produced through intensive, industrial agriculture that drives the destruction of tropical and other forest systems. The new policy caps these fuels’ contribution to biofuel targets at 2019 levels and phases out their use by 2030. Furthermore, all food-based biofuels, which include a broader category of polluting biofuels beyond palm- and soy- fuels, are now optional under the new transport target.

In addition, the EU expanded markets for advanced, sustainable biofuels, by setting a new minimum target for these types, which include biofuels made from wastes, residues and renewable electricity.

Graphic courtesy of European Federation for Transport and Environment

The EU’s decision to continue ‘carbon-neutral’ designation for biomass energy, however, remains a critical flaw in the Union’s overall approach to renewable energy.

The European Union has emerged, regrettably, as a top user of wood pellets for electric energy. Although technically a renewable resource, burning wood for power is highly polluting and inefficient, resulting in more climate emissions per unit of energy at the smokestack than coal. Large-scale biomass power increases demand for tree harvesting as well, contributing to deforestation and reducing the ability of forests to provide important carbon sinks.

Designating wood energy ‘carbon-neutral’ also ignores the scientific consensus that this type of energy contributes to climate change.

Mighty Earth and 19 other non-profit organizations came together to challenge the EU in avoiding a decision on biomass energy. We encourage the EU to reexamine this policy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


Major EPA report confirms that biofuels drive land conversion, hurt biodiversity

A major report, just issued by the EPA, includes a sweeping condemnation of U.S. biofuel policy.

This triennial report, issued four years late, found that increased production of corn and soy for biofuels have led to range of adverse environmental outcomes. Its conclusions will be familiar to anyone who’s followed the environmental discussion around biofuels in recent years. Among its findings:

  • Native ecosystems are being converted to industrial crop production both here in the United States and abroad;
  • this conversion destroys wildlife habitat and hurts biodiversity, and;
  • agricultural inputs, including fertilizer application, are up, increasing run-off and water pollution and contributing to algal blooms and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

The scope of this triennial report did not include assessments of the climate emissions impacts caused by the RFS. But, scientific research around carbon emissions from land conversion and a close reading of the EPA assumptions around existing biofuel production facilities show that food-based biofuels have emissions that are likely on par with or worse than the oil and gas they replaced.

Ultimately, this report echoes years of evidence and calls by the environmental community to reform our use of food-based biofuels. More corn, soy, palm and other food-based biofuels will only worsen these environmental problems, and it’s clearly the wrong course to consider maintaining or increasing consumption.


“This is Biofuel” Advertising Campaign Highlights Damaging Environmental Impacts of U.S. Biofuel Mandates

Environmental and Development Groups Point to Massive Deforestation, Public Health Impacts of Food-Based Biofuels

Today, Mighty EarthActionAid USAClean Air Task Force and Sierra Club announced the launch of an advertising campaign publicizing the environmental destruction caused by U.S. policies that mandate biofuel production.

The ads, which will run across print and digital outlets for multiple weeks, showcase a new report linking policies that mandate the production of food-based biofuels to wildlife habitat destruction and increased climate pollution. The campaign aims to educate the public about the mounting evidence that food-based biofuels are worse for the environment and climate than oil and gas.

“Corn ethanol, soy biodiesel and other food-based biofuels aren’t feel-good, hippie fuels,” said Rose Garr, Policy Director at Mighty Earth. “The Renewable Fuel Standard was intended to clean up our transportation sector, but instead it’s subsidizing fuels that are even dirtier than oil.”

“Biofuel mandates have caused large swaths of grasslands, forests, and other natural landscapes to be converted into farmland, releasing tremendous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere,” said Jonathan Lewis, Senior Counsel at Clean Air Task Force. “The Renewable Fuel Standard was intended to lower emissions from cars and trucks, but instead the policy is exacerbating global warming.”

“The U.S. biofuel mandate is driving large-scale, industrial agriculture – polluting the earth and hurting local people who are just trying to feed their families,” said Kelly Stone, Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid USA. “People’s land rights, food security, and right to a healthy environment should not be sacrificed in the name of a broken policy.”

"Despite its name, biofuels have harmed our communities, our air and water, and exacerbated climate change,” said Andrew Linhardt, Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All Deputy Advocacy Director. "Rather than doubling down on biofuels, we must be investing in truly clean sources of energy to power our transportation needs."

Mighty Earth and ActionAid USA’s new report, “Burned: Deception, Deforestation, and America’s Biodiesel Policy,” documented bulldozing, burning and the recent clearance of 30,000 acres of forest to plant new soy fields in Argentina's Gran Chaco ecosystem, which supply some of the same companies producing soy biodiesel for export to the United States. The report also found that only 13% of biodiesel produced in 2016 came from waste and recycled oils. The large majority of biodiesel is produced using virgin oils, which are closely linked to deforestation and land conversion in the United States, Argentina and southeast Asia.

The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandates increased biofuel consumption through 2022. In the United States, the increased crop production to meet this biofuel mandate contributed to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone, toxic algal blooms that have poisoning drinking water in Lake Erie and other waterways and nitrate pollution across the Midwest. And, although truly advanced, sustainable biofuel production still holds promise, these better biofuels constitute only a tiny fraction of overall biofuel production.

The digital campaign can be seen on Axios, POLITICO, and Twitter. For more on the report and what can be done visit www.mightyearth.org/burned


Biofuels Burning

Trudeau’s flawed biofuels plan repeats U.S. mistakes, undermines climate goals

Earlier this year, Mighty Earth chairman Henry Waxman, the former Congressman and environmental champion from California, wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a warning: tread carefully with biofuels policy.

Without the full range of safeguards, which Environment and Climate Change Canada has so far declined to include in its proposed Clean Fuel Standard (CFS), Canada is following in the footsteps of the United States and Europe. In those places, biofuel policies have caused extensive environmental damage and increased climate pollution, even compared to oil and gas. (More here, here and here.)

The United States has a long history with biofuel policy. Indeed, the current U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), adopted in 2007, had the explicit goal of reducing climate emission through the promotion of cleaner-burning, renewable fuels. But while the RFS was largely successful in promoting conventional, food-based biofuels like corn ethanol and vegetable oil-based biodiesel, it largely failed to stimulate new innovation and the ultra-low carbon ‘fuels of the future.’

Not only did these more sustainable biofuels fail to emerge, but inadequate accounting for and protection against cropland expansion has meant that large swaths of grassland, prairie, and even tropical forests abroad have been destroyed for new agricultural production. This widespread ecosystem destruction releases carbon stored in plants, tree, soil and peat, which reduces, negates or even reverses any benefit biofuels provide at the tailpipe. That’s why government reviews now show that the U.S. RFS is an ineffective climate mitigation program, if not a net contributor to increased greenhouse gas pollution.

A key safeguard against the problem of cropland conversion is the inclusion of robust accounting for indirect land-use change (ILUC), or, in other words, a measurement of how increased demand for biofuel crops affects the expansion of agricultural land. There is broad scientific consensus that ILUC is a key measurement of any biofuels’ true carbon impact. Unfortunately, the proposed CFS omits this accounting entirely.

Although the ECCC has indicated that it will consider addressing ILUC at a later date, waiting is a mistake. Once the agricultural industry receives signals, lays plan and makes investments, it becomes politically challenging to change course. That’s what happened in the European Union, where biofuel targets were implemented without ILUC accounting in 2009. When ILUC accounting was proposed three years later, the food-based biofuel industry was powerful enough to block adoption.

To its credit, Canada has proposed structuring its biofuel policy along the lines of California’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard – an improvement over the federal U.S. RFS – and has other proposed policies including a price on carbon that may interact with and incentivize more sustainable biofuels. However, without a true assessment of the carbon impact of biofuels, it’s difficult to say if this will be enough.

Prime Minister Trudeau and Environmental and Climate Change Canada still have a window to get this right. The proposed CFS is in draft stage, and ECCC could easily include the California Low-Carbon Fuel Standard’s ILUC values as a place-holder in the draft regulation due out this year, until Canada can study and determine what its own ILUC values should be. Such a move would send a strong message to the agricultural and biofuels industry: give us your best, most sustainable biofuels.

We encourage Prime Minister Trudeau and Environment Minister McKenna to follow this course of action, learn from mistakes made elsewhere, and craft a policy that serves as a model for other governments.


Pruitt declares biomass carbon neutral in major hit to climate

Scott Pruitt today declared the burning of trees for energy as carbon neutral.

“Saying that burning trees is clean energy is just another dirty lie from Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration,” said Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty Earth CEO. “Pruitt and Trump love coal, so of course they’d fall for an energy source that’s even dirtier.”

Pruitt’s decision today ignores the science that burning biomass for energy releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, worsening the climate crisis and clearing valuable forests for short-term energy use. Mighty Earth Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman wrote an op-ed on this topic and Mighty also released a report with the Sierra Club analyzing the environmental impacts of a proposed biomass plant in Oregon.


Mighty Earth Champions New Legislation to Reform Broken Biofuel Policy

Washington, DC—Today, Mighty Earth chairman Henry Waxman joined Senator Tom Udall, Representative Peter Welch, and members of the environmental and conservation community to introduce the GREENER Fuels Act.

This bill provides, for the first time, pro-environment solutions to the reform the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). This broken policy, once seen as a promising way to promote truly sustainable biofuels and curb climate change, has instead only led to the expansion of first-generation, food-based fuels that are worse for the environment and climate than oil and gas.

The new bill, the GREENER Fuels Act, refocuses the law to promote the best biofuels and reduce support for the most polluting.

Statement of former Congressman Henry Waxman:

“I applaud Congressman Welch and Senator Udall for their leadership. It’s time to admit that the Renewable Fuel Standard has done more harm than good and start supporting sensible fixes. Like many of my colleagues, I supported the admirable environmental goals of the RFS when we created it ten years ago. Now, it’s clear that the RFS has been a net-negative for the environment. Not only has the RFS failed to spur significant development of truly advanced fuels, but conventional biofuels like corn ethanol and soy biodiesel are destroying wildlife habitat at home and abroad, polluting waterways, and increasing global warming pollution.”


Environmentalists Urge Common-Ground Reform for Biofuels Mandate after Refinery Bankruptcy

Normally, we wouldn’t be shedding tears about the financial woes of a fossil energy giant. But the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS), the biofuels law that is crippling Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), is also a disaster for the environment. The RFS is propping up food-based biofuels that are even dirtier than dirty old oil. That’s why major conservation and environmental groups are calling for a scale-back of biofuel mandates, something that would benefit refiners like PES.

Rather than a ‘swamp’ solution that only benefits Big Corn and Big Oil, potentially at the cost of taxpayers, Congress should listen to Democratic voices who want pro-environment reforms of biofuel policy. A bipartisan reform bill could be that very rare thing- legislation that oil refiners and environmentalists both support.


Investigation Into U.S. Renewable Fuels Policies Finds "Green" Biodiesel Producers Driving Massive Deforestation

Investigation Into U.S. Renewable Fuels Policies Finds “Green” Biodiesel Producers Driving Massive Deforestation

WASHINGTON D.C. – A new investigation, “Burned: Deception, Deforestation, and America’s Biodiesel Policy” by the organizations Mighty Earth and ActionAid USA has found that biodiesel is not the environmentally friendly, “green” fuel claimed by industry producers. On-the-ground investigators documented bulldozing, burning and the recent clearance of 30,000 acres of forest to plant new soy fields in northern Argentina, which supply some of the same companies producing soy biodiesel for export to the United States.

The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandates increasing biofuel consumption through 2022, and has driven Argentina to increase soy-based biodiesel production for U.S. export. In 2016, Argentina provided over one-fifth of biodiesel consumed in the United States. The RFS is also contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the algal blooms in Lake Erie and other waterways and nitrate pollution across the Midwest, through increased crop production for biofuels in the United States.

“This isn’t the used cooking oil biodiesel powering Willie Nelson’s tour bus,” said Rose Garr, policy director at Mighty Earth. “The RFS was intended to clean up our transportation sector, but instead it’s subsidizing fuels that are even dirtier than oil.”

As the largest supplier of biodiesel imports, Argentina is currently a global hotspot of deforestation, caused primarily by soy production. The report also found significant quantities of biodiesel made from Indonesian palm oil being imported into the United States; palm oil has been Indonesia’s leading driver of deforestation, linked to habitat destruction of highly endangered species including orangutans and Sumatran elephants.

Mighty Earth and ActionAid USA sent a field team to Argentina’s Chaco forest to investigate the scope of this destruction. The team visited ten sites in the Chaco that are undergoing rapid deforestation for soy production, which it documented both on the ground and through aerial drones. They found new soybean fields carved into the middle of what were recently intact forests, and massive fires set to clear land for soy production.

Although the Renewable Fuel Standard requires that biodiesel not be produced on recently cleared land, the report found evidence that major biodiesel producers like Cargill and Bunge were continuing to expand their overall soy operations into areas with significant deforestation.

“This appears to be a case where the left-hand claims to be clean while the right is in it up to its elbow,” said Garr.

In addition to the environmental impacts of this production, members of local communities are reporting serious health impacts connected to the expanded soy production incentivized by biofuels. Many families reported poisonings from the pesticides associated with this production, including glyphosate, which is sometimes sprayed aerially.

“The big agribusiness companies want you to believe they’re feeding the world. But they’re not. Kids are getting sick, local people are being forced off their land and animals are being killed, all to produce soybean oil that’s being shipped to the U.S. and burned as fuel for our cars and trucks,” said Kelly Stone, senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA. “Localizing food production and reforming our agriculture policies is an important part of tackling climate change. People’s rights to own and farm land and their right to a clean environment must not be sacrificed to feed the thirst of a broken Congressional policy.”

Mighty Earth and ActionAid USA’s report comes as the RFS is poised to be a key legislative fight in 2018. The organizations recommend that the United States ends or dramatically lowers mandates and subsidies for food-based biodiesel and other food-based biofuels. In addition, the agricultural traders and biodiesel producers who control the industry should adopt and fully enforce “No Deforestation, No Exploitation” commitments throughout their entire global supply chains in order to ensure that the soy and other commodities they sell is not produced through deforestation.

Although the recent decision by the Commerce Department to impose countervailing duties on Argentine and Indonesian biodiesel will likely curtail near-term imports, the massive environmental destruction in Argentina should serve as a cautionary tale. Because the RFS mandates remain in place, new biodiesel production will have to come on-line elsewhere, which poses risk to wildlife, people, and the climate.

“This problem won’t be solved by countervailing duties alone. If Congress does not end mandates for food-based biodiesel and other biofuels, this same destructive cycle could be replicated both at home and in other areas of the world,” said Garr.

About Mighty Earth

Mighty Earth is a global environmental campaign organization that works to protect forests, conserve oceans, and address climate change. We work in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and North America to drive large-scale action towards environmentally responsible agriculture that protects native ecosystems, wildlife, and water, and respects local community rights. Mighty Earth’s global team has played a decisive role in persuading the world’s largest food and agriculture companies to dramatically improve their environmental and social policies and practices. More information on Mighty Earth can be found at https://www.mightyearth.org/.

About ActionAid USA

ActionAid is on a mission to end poverty and injustice by investing in local problem solvers. People who are determined and committed, and motivated to change the world around them. We actively invest in powerful people living in poverty and exclusion in 45 countries around the world. ActionAid connects problem solvers with the people whose decisions affect their daily lives, so they can understand and claim their rights, and bring about change that lasts. ActionAid USA campaigns for reform of the Renewal Fuel Standard because of the policy’s impacts on the land rights and food security of people in the U.S. and around the world. https://www.actionaidusa.org/

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