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In testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management on December 1, federal government officials admitted, once again, what free market critics like myself have long argued concerning the mandatory biofuels program — it can’t meet the goals set established in the law, and the more the government tries to force the issue, the worse it is for consumers.
Testifying concerning the findings of two reports issued by the Government Accountability Office [GAO], Frank Russo, director of the GAO’s natural resources and environment division, said, “The most salient finding here is that it is unlikely that advanced biofuels can meet the statutory targets to [the Renewable Fuel Standard] RSF,” reported Courthouse News Service. “They fell below targets by well over 1 billion gallons in 2014 and we’re expecting a 5 billion gallon shortfall for 2017,” continued Russo.
Responding to the reports and Russo’s testimony, Courthouse News Service reports in a statement, Sen. James Lankford, [R-OK], called for Congress to repeal the standard, “saying Thursday’s reports prove that it imposes unrealistic and costly mandates. ‘The RFS program isn’t meeting the greenhouse gas emission goals, it is unsustainable, and it yields few benefits, while it has inflicted substantial costs on consumers. The renewable fuel standard mandate simply doesn’t work.’”
Meanwhile reports from Europe confirm a second point critic’s of biofuels have long made, not only does their increasing use fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions [as if that were in fact desirable or necessary], but it also results in environmental harm as forests are logged to provide fuel for power plants and vehicles.
As reported in The Guardian, research from the European conservation organization Birdlife shows protected forests in Europe and around the globe are being intensively logged to satisfy the European Union’s (EU) demand for renewable energy required to reach its climate commitments. Birdlife estimates as much as 65 percent of Europe’s renewable output currently comes not from wind or solar but from bioenergy, turning forest material into wood pellets and chips to burn as fuel. Although under EU law biofuel for power plants is supposed to come from forest residue or forest waste, it turns out much of the raw material is coming from trees felled specifically to provide fuel, often in protected forests. Birdlife found logging has taken place in protected forests such as in the Poloniny national park in eastern Slovakia and in Italian riverside forests around Emilia-Romagna.
The problem is large-scale biofuel power plants require more fuel than can be consistently provided from forest waste alone. Logging trees for energy releases all of their stored carbon in a single instant as they are burned for fuel, while trees planted to replace those logged absorb carbon dioxide only slowly over time. Largely due to its biofuel demand it is estimated Europe’s carbon sink will decline approximately 100 million tons between 2020 and 2030.
EU’s demand for biofuels, both for transportation and electricity, is also contributing to logging beyond Europe. One plant in Vyborg, Russia produces 800,000 tons of wood pellets annually from trees logged from Russian forests in part to meet demand from various EU countries. In addition, Colombia “has doubled its number of palm oil plantations in less than a decade, while tripling exports to Europe. Half a million hectares of the country’s forest land – including former tropical rainforest areas – have been cleared for agricultural exploitation since 2006.”
Commenting on the report, Sini Eräjää, Birdlife’s bioenergy officer, said: “This report provides clear evidence that the EU’s renewable energy policies have led to increased harvesting of whole trees and to continued use of food crops for energy. We are subsidizing large-scale environmental destruction, not just outside Europe, as in Indonesia or the US, but also right in our own backyard.”