Reforming Biofuels

Concerns about corn-based ethanol include emissions produced and the redirecting of food sources to gas tanks.©

A joint report last week highlighted the need for policy reforms to ensure that the emerging growth in biofuels is a net gain for the environment and human welfare. Sierra Club and the Worldwatch Institute collaborated on the report, "Smart Choices for Biofuels," which outlines the economic and environmental impacts of first-generation biofuels such as corn ethanol and suggests general strategies and specific policy recommendations to make the biofuels industry more sustainable moving forward.

Domestic output of biofuels—mostly corn-based ethanol—has doubled since just 2005, and Congress is calling for four times more of the stuff to flow through the nation’s transportation sector by 2022. But concerns about the global warming emissions associated with producing corn-based ethanol, let alone the impact of growing corn for fuel instead of food, has environmentalists worried that the greener future promised by making fuel from vegetables may never be realized unless regulations can guide the industry down a greener path. The groups are calling on the federal government to accelerate the transition from corn to so-called cellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass and to regulate agricultural practices associated with producing biofuels to mitigate environmental damage.

"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 Worldwatch’s Christopher Flavin. "However, the large and growing scale of the industry makes it critical that Congress now make smart choices that promote sustainable biofuels—rather than just more biofuels—as part of a clean energy economy."

Source: Sierra Club