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EWG Commentary on SCOPE Biofuels Report

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, April 2, 2009

WASHINGTON - April 2, 2009. The following is commentary from Environmental Working Group Midwest Vice President Craig Cox regarding today's release of a Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) report on biofuels.

The report released today by the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) International Biofuels Project confirms that corn-based ethanol is a dead end.  It calls into question the notion that public policy should continue to support corn-based ethanol as a bridge to the “next generation” of biofuels a claim repeatedly made by corn ethanol proponents.
Indeed, the report raises serious questions about how important a role liquid biofuels – either current or next-generation -- can realistically play in the renewable energy economy that is vital to our prosperity and our environment.
This timely report challenges the conventional wisdom that too often dominates the debate over biofuels policy in the United States and across the globe.  Policymakers should pay close attention to the report as they move forward with climate change and energy legislation.

Key Highlights

  • Economic pressures on corn prices will likely limit corn-ethanol production to 15 billion gallons a year¾at best enough ethanol to replace 7 percent of the gasoline each year in the United States.
  • In 2007, the United States used 24 percent of its corn crop to produce ethanol, which supplied only 1.3 percent of U.S. liquid fuel.
  • New liquid hydrocarbon fuels produced from cellulosic biomass seem likely to offer several advantages, including more efficient yields and less environmental impact, over ethanol produced from cellulose.
  • Opportunities for biofuel production that maximize social benefits while minimizing environmental impacts are few,  and those that exist are unlikely to make a significant contribution to society’s energy budget.
  • Burning biomass itself as fuel to generate electricity and heat is likely a more efficient way to produce renewable energy than converting biomass to liquid fuel such as ethanol.
  • Current mandates and targets for liquid biofuels should be reconsidered in light of the potential environmental damage and impact on food prices.
  • A truly sustainable energy policy should first aim to reduce demand for energy  through conservation and improved efficiency.

The full SCOPE report is available at: http://cip.cornell.edu/biofuels/

Craig Cox, EWG Midwest VP, manages EWG's office in Ames, IA. Prior to EWG, Mr. Cox served as Executive Director of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and was Acting USDA Deputy Under-Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and Special Assistant to the Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group’s farm subsidy database can be found at www.mulchblog.com

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