When is too much impact on greenhouse gas emissions not enough? When you're the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling on the idea of including palm oil used as biodiesel as part of the updated renewable fuel standard. The agency has found that the fuel isn't suitable for use, but at least one group says the agency hasn't gone far enough, but farm groups like what they've heard from EPA so far.
The National Farmers Union submitted comments Friday - last day of the public comment period on the issue - in support of the EPA's findings that palm-oil based biodiesel doesn't qualify as a renewable energy source meeting the new standards set by Congress. "We are seeing the conversion of rainforests to production agriculture in order to produce palm oil, which negatively impacts biodiversity and carbon sequestration," says Roger Johnson. "Many palm oil plantations are draining peatlands, which has a significant impact on CO2 emissions. Together, these two factors negate most of the benefits realized from using palm oil as renewable fuel."
The EPA's analysis looked at the loss of rainforest and the draining of peatlands as the big net loss for palm-oil based biodiesel, which keeps the fuel from being classed as renewable under the RFS. However one group - the Rainforest Action Network - claims that EPA hasn't gone far enough. Scientific and environmental groups summarized their comments to EPA's proposed finding and while they agreed with EPA's conclusion, they argue that EPA's analysis actually underestimates the greenhouse gas emissions of palm oil. "The emissions of palm oil-based biofuels substantially exceed the emissions from conventional petroleum diesel," says Jeremy Martin, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a press statement.
In their comment to EPA, the group notes that EPA's analysis found that palm oil-based biodiesel fails the meet the minimum qualifying standard fo 20% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum based diesel for the RFS, as well as the 50% greenhouse gas emissions reduction to qualify as a renewable diesel.
The groups, however, claim that EPA is under pressure to reverse the finding from lobbying gropus aligned with the Indonesian, Malaysian and Chinese palm oil industry. How the EPA will rule after its own analysis shows there's a problem remains to be seen.