In a decision anticipated as a major setback for proponents of renewable biofuels, California regulators appear ready to conclude that corn ethanol cannot help the state reduce “global warming.”
In a hearing scheduled tomorrow in Sacramento, the California Environmental Protection Agency has evidently concluded that corn ethanol will not help the state implement Executive Order S-1-07, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Jan. 18, 2007, mandating a 10 percent reduction in the carbon intensity of the state’s fuels by 2020.
“Ethanol is a good fuel, but how it is produced is problematic,” Dimitri Stanich, public information oOfficer for the California Environmental Protection Agency, told WND. “The corn ethanol industry has to figure out another way to process corn into ethanol that is not so coal intensive.”
Stanich pointed out that the formula the California Environmental Protection Agency utilizes to assess the net greenhouse gas impact of alternative fuels takes into consideration that typically the electricity used to produce corn ethanol involves burning coal, which emits carbon dioxide and defeats states regulatory intent to reduce net greenhouse emissions.
Also problematic, Stanich explained, was that increased demand for ethanol will encourage recognition worldwide that more ethanol can be sold. The result is that more land globally will be converted to producing corn for ethanol.
“Converting land that is now a ‘carbon sink’ to farmland producing ethanol also defeats the purpose of the regulations, because land now absorbing carbon dioxide would be cleared to produce corn,” he said.
Another problem Stanich pointed out was that the waste product from producing corn ethanol also requires the burning of coal to convert it into animal feed.
The California Environmental Protection Agency formula assesses as a loss the conversion of the carbon dioxide-absorbing land now populated with trees into cleared farmland producing corn for ethanol.
Stanich told WND the California Environmental Protection Agency has scheduled six hours for public testimony, expecting to hear strong opposition from the ethanol industry.
Current federal government mandates require U.S. gasoline producers to use 12 billion gallons of ethanol this year, with the requirement increasing to 15 billion gallons by 2015.
Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are pushing to increase the percentage of ethanol in gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent, an increase right now that would mostly come from corn ethanol, not cellulosic ethanol.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts nearly one-fourth of U.S. corn production in 2014-2015 will be diverted to ethanol production, up from 12 percent in 2004-2005.
The USDA estimates that the increased demand for corn to produce ethanol has pushed prices from less than $2 per bushel of corn in 2005 to $3.40 per bushel in 2007. Corn is currently trading at about $3.80 per bushel.
WND reported this week a controversial Congressional Budget Office study concluded that 10 to 15 percent of the increase in food prices from April 2007 to April 2008 is attributable to the increasing demand for corn to produce ethanol, contributing adversely to the problem of world hunger.