Photo (cc) Wakx on Flickr
As the Washington Post explained “In 2007, Congress expanded a requirement (the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard) for U.S. refineries to blend a certain amount of “renewable fuel” with their gasoline. Ethanol or biofuels could count, but they had to be 20 percent cleaner than traditional fossil fuels.” So in January the EPA released analysis which found that while palm oil derived diesel fuels have lower “lifecycle” emissions than their traditional counterparts, it is only 11-17 percent cleaner, due to the massive deforestation behind its production. The EPA opened its comments period, and the palm oil industry and its lobbyists went wild. One instance, reported by the Hill, found “The American Palm Oil Council, in requesting an extension of the comment period, called EPA’s conclusion “based on faulty data and erroneous assumptions.”” And there are many more like that.
There’s an additional worrying part to this issue; while the palm oil industry scrambles to disprove the EPA, environmental activists have noted that the EPA’s findings may actually be on the conservative side. By a lot. The EPAs calculations are predicated on the belief that of future palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia 9-13 percent would take place on peatlands. The National Academy of Sciences report puts that figure above 50 percent for current oil palm plantations.
Kimberly Carlson (a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies who co-authored the report) noted that even placing a moratorium on oil palm expansion will not be enough; “protecting secondary and logged forests, as well as peatlands, is the strategy that most effectively reduces carbon emissions and maintains forest cover.” The EPA’s comment period on their palm oil ruling closed on April 26, and their final decision will determine whether or not the US becomes one of the world’s leading purchasers of this less than clean biofuel.