Sunday, May 3, 2009

Indirect Impacts...To Count Or Not To Count

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is debating whether or not to include indirect impacts from producing ethanol in the limits that would be set for greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol production. The article “Ethanol test for Obama on climate change, emissions” by H. Josef Hebert analyzes both sides of the debate.

Senators who are from farming intensive states are arguing that indirect emissions do not be taken into account when analyzing the emissions limits. Senator Charles Grassley from Iowa thinks that it “defies common sense that EPA would publish a proposed rule-making with harmful conclusions for biofuels based on incomplete science and inaccurate assumptions.” Ethanol manufacturers agree with this opinion as well.

Personally, I think that the indirect emissions should be taken into account because of the impact that it will make on both the climate as well as our economy. If land that is specifically cleared to make way for ethanol production contributes towards emitting greenhouse gases, then I think the ethanol companies should be held accountable. But, I only think that they should be held accountable if the EPA can come up with an accurate way to quantify the emissions from clearing land. A subjective estimate could be argued as unfair from either side, so I think that if there is a way to scientifically quantify the amount emitted, that amount should definitely be used.

Also, one of the other indirect impacts that this article does not mention is the fact that using corn for fuel versus food will have a negative impact on the economy as well. This may not contribute towards greenhouse gas emissions, but it will drive up the price of corn and continue to strain the budgets of families that are already hard hit from the recession.

This article mentions that ethanol manufacturers would be able to meet the emissions requirements if only the direct emissions were counted, however they would most likely fail if the indirect ones were counted as well. The director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is an environmental advocacy group, believes that if the indirect emissions were taken into account, the ethanol industry would be able to adapt to the new standards.

And, I think this is another reason why the indirect emissions should be taken into account. If you put a restraint on an industry, they will find a way to meet that requirement. When the new CAFÉ standards for car mileage were set to be 35 miles per gallon by 2020, the automotive industry has a choice to either comply or go under. The same would apply to the ethanol industry. And, with the technological advances that we are making daily, I do not think that this would be an outrageous requirement for this industry to adhere to.

1 comment:

Ideamotor said...


Since one of the main reasons the government supports corn ethanol is greenhouse gas emissions, I believe indirect emissions should be considered.

Your point about food costs really makes me worry about governmental attempts of social engineering due to environmental concerns. Due to the flaccid public attempts to conduct a full analysis and bickering due to regional location, I am sincerely concerned about the ability of our democracy to make decisions such as this. We need some sort of independent (as much as possible) organization filled with scientists and economists who can work in a vacuum to make recommendations of environmental social value and market externalities. I don't think that the EPA, politicians, or the corn ethanol industry is up to this task.