Opinion: ARB on ethanol: Science shows greenhouse gases linked to land-use changes

In a recent article, the California Ethanol Vehicle Coalition stated that the Air Resources Board is clinging to “discredited” theories on the impact on global land use changes associated with the production of corn-based ethanol for use in transportation fuels. This is not true.  The science clearly and unequivocally supports the fact that there are greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use changes resulting from the growing of corn to produce fuel.

The important debate surrounds the magnitude of these emissions impacts, and science-based issues of land use change is precisely what world-renowned scientists in the expert workgroup are meeting on a regular basis to discuss.  ARB convened this public workgroup in February 2010 and it has held five public meetings to date.

Moreover, this workgroup is complementing other ARB staff efforts to address the science of land use changes and other effects of all transportation fuels.  Our goal is to ensure that we fully evaluate the latest advancements in science to help us develop appropriate changes to the current regulation in the near future. In this, we fully agree with the author that the public must be engaged in this public process – and we encourage the Coalition to participate in this process, too. 

The article also claims that the existing ARB regulation shuts corn ethanol out of California.  Again, not true: Corn ethanol can be produced in a variety of ways, with some producing far much less greenhouse gas impacts than others.  In fact, facilities in California – which are more energy efficient and use natural gas instead of coal —  already produce corn ethanol with significantly lower greenhouse gas impacts than an average Midwestern facility.

This is just one way that ARB’s low carbon fuel standard incentivizes the use of cleaner corn ethanol. There are many others, and over the coming decade we expect to see not only low carbon varieties of ethanol produced right here in California but also the next generation of ethanol and other advanced fuels (some produced from agricultural waste) along with electricity, hydrogen, and natural gas as viable clean fuels for our cars and trucks.

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