Time to Get “Smart” on Biofuels

Time to Get "Smart" on Biofuels

Sierra Club, Worldwatch Institute Outline "Smart Choices for Biofuels" in New Report


Washington, D.C.-The Sierra Club and Worldwatch Institute today released a report, Smart Choices for Biofuels, highlighting the need for important policy reforms at this critical juncture in America's effort to increase the use of biofuels. The report outlines the economic and environmental impacts of first-generation biofuels such as corn ethanol, proposes strategies to make the biofuels industry more sustainable, and offers specific policy recommendations in four broad categories:

  • Developing sustainability standards
  • Advancing biofuels production and new technologies
  • Creating green jobs through biofuels
  • Promoting policy coherence across energy sectors

"At a time of volatile gas prices and rising concern about global warming, it has become clear that biofuels can play a role in reducing dependence on oil and curbing climate change," said Christopher Flavin, President of Worldwatch Institute. "However, the large and growing scale of the industry make it critical that Congress now make smart choices that promote sustainable biofuels-rather than just more biofuels-as part of a clean energy economy."

U.S. biofuels production in 2008 topped 9 billion gallons-the vast majority of which was corn ethanol-and successive Congressional mandates call for the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by the year 2022. Domestic biofuels output has more than doubled since 2005, and the report explores the many issues associated with this dramatic increase in the production of renewable fuels, including: the global warming emissions profile of corn ethanol; the effect on the Conservation Reserve Program; other effects on the nation's air, water, and land; and the lower-than-expected economic benefits for rural communities.

"The headlong rush toward biofuels-corn ethanol in particular-has had many consequences, some foreseen and others not," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. "The downside risks to our land, air, water, and economy have become readily apparent, but the good news is that with smart choices we can make biofuels work for the environment, economy, and climate, while enhancing our energy security."

Smart Choices for Biofuels maps a future path for biofuels to ensure that they are more environmentally and socially sustainable and that the use of renewable fuels for transportation contributes to the global effort to reduce global warming pollution. The steps proposed in the report include an accelerated transition to cellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass and the use of more effective agricultural practices to decrease erosion and soil nutrient depletion. The report also recommends complementary steps beyond improvements in biofuels production, such as the promotion of plug-in hybrid vehicles and increased investments in public transportation, which could also help achieve crucial energy and climate goals.

Finally, the report concludes that if a renewable fuels mandate is to contribute effectively to reducing foreign oil dependence and curbing global warming, it must be reevaluated in light of changing circumstances. Changes in four broad policy categories-sustainability standards, advancing biofuels production and new technologies, creating green jobs, and promoting policy coherence across energy sectors-are detailed in the report.

Sierra Club and Worldwatch Institute previously collaborated on biofuels and sustainability when they released a report in October 2007 focused solely on Iowa, titled Destination Iowa: Getting to a Sustainable Biofuels Future.

A longer Worldwatch report entitled, Red, White, and Green: A New Approach to U.S. Biofuels will be released in early April. Please sign up for our enewsletters to receive updates about our latest publication releases.

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