Urban Air Initiative, Energy Future Coalition challenge EPA data on ethanol’s lifecycle emission

Washington, D.C., April 11, 2016:  Urban Air Initiative joined the Energy Future Coalition and the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition (GBC) in calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize an overwhelming body of new evidence showing fuel ethanol can reduce carbon emissions.

The EPA’s assessment of information on ethanol’s lifecycle emissions is inaccurate and outdated according to the Urban Air Initiative (UAI) and the Energy Future Coalition (EFC). The groups argue that contrary to EPAs 2010 Lifecycle Analysis report, the best available science shows that blending ethanol into gasoline has significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.

The two organizations were joined by the GBC which represents 21 state governors supporting the development of cleaner burning fuels like ethanol. The groups filed a report requesting that the EPA correct its 2010 Lifecycle Analysis for future Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) rules. The request for correction was filed under EPA’s Information Quality Guidelines by the law firm of Boyden Gray and Associates.

The request for correction came in response to an evaluation being done by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in regards to whether the EPA had updated lifecycle analyses supporting the Renewable Fuel Standard. UAI and EFC contend the reports the EPA relied on regarding greenhouse gas emissions and conventional air pollutants are woefully outdated.

“The lifecycle analyses that the EPA and the National Academy of Science relied on have been updated due to technological revolutions in agricultural production and biorefining as well as improved modeling. At every stage, corn ethanol results in less greenhouse gas emissions and air toxic pollution than gasoline,” said Urban Air Initiative President Dave VanderGriend. “As a result, the best available science demonstrates that blending ethanol into gasoline lowers emissions associated with climate change and improves human health. Ethanol’s benefits would be even greater if it were blended at higher levels.

The data-backed report UAI, EFC, and GBC submitted to the EPA covers a range of crucial considerations that make up the overall lifecycle assessment. In particular the report argues:

  • Land Use Change and related emissions are much less than estimated and improved yields means more corn on less land;
  • More efficient agricultural practices result in less nitrogen fertilizer per bushel;
  • The sequestration value of corn allows for the capture of carbon deep below ground;
  • Biorefineries producing ethanol and other co-products are significantly more efficient, using less natural gas and electricity while producing more products;
  • Petroleum based fuels–which biofuels are measured against– are becoming more energy intensive, making the gap between the two even greater.

“Agriculture practices and ethanol plant technology are evolving and improving every day”, said VanderGriend. “Ethanol lifecycle analysis was never an exact science but to be saddled with 5 year old data and assumptions fails to paint an accurate picture. We are growing more corn, with fewer inputs, on less land, and producing both feed and fuel. The carbon footprint of that fuel therefore is significantly undervalued in these studies.”

The report to EPA also notes that the carbon reductions would be even greater through higher ethanol blends since ethanol’s high octane would displace the most carbon intensive compounds in oil which are currently the source of octane.

“The benefits of ethanol go well beyond greenhouse gas emissions.  The ‘traditional’ air pollutants like particulate matter, toxics, and NOx are also reduced,” said VanderGriend.  “Higher ethanol blends provide even more benefits and we have the ability to protect public health through cleaner fuels.”

Under the Information Quality Guideline, the EPA is required to respond the request within 90 days. If you’d like a copy of the report, please email kim@urbanairinitiative.com .