Liquid biofuels are diesel-like fuels derived from oil rich food crops like canola, corn, soy, coconut and palm. Industry forecasts call for doubling the supply of “edible oils” in the U.S. by 2030 to meet the biofuel targets mandated in state climate policies (a forecast that was made before the recent passage of Vermont's own biofuel-heavy climate bill, the Affordable Heat Act).
While biofuels are seen by some as a means of transitioning off of fossil fuels, many biofuels have the same or worse greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as fossil fuels over their full life cycle. Not only are the emissions profiles generally at least as bad as the fossil fuels they'd replace, buying any kind of liquid biofuel drives increased palm and soy production in the tropics because of the interconnected global market on which they are sold. Growing tropical palm or soy destroys tropical forests and soils (leading to massive releases of carbon) and causes dramatic biodiversity losses in some of the most important ecosystems left on earth. These associated emissions and ecological harms are ignored by conventional GHG accounting protocols.
Liquid biofuel crops replace food crops, putting stress on our food system. Growing food in an increasingly chaotic climate is going to be extremely difficult, and we should not be productive agricultural land from food crops to biofuel crops.
Biofuels have the same or worse particulate as fossil fuels, and the pollution, deforestation and other harmful effects of biofuels disproportionately impact frontline and indigenous communities who already bear more than their fair share of climate burdens.
We must not and need not incentivize the production of these fuels. Biofuels will not facilitate the decarbonization of our economy and their production is harmful to biodiversity and the overall health of our planet. We need policies that incentivize weatherization, energy conservation and heat pumps, not biofuels.
A new EPA proposal is reigniting a debate about what counts as ‘renewable’ - John McCracken, Grist, January 4th 2023
The New Era of Biofuels Raises Environmental Concerns - Peter Fairley, Scientific American, December 13th 2022
The Truth About Biofuels - Rishya Narayanan, November 3rd 2022 - Conservation Law Foundation
“Northern biofuel laws and policies have violated the right to food of some of the world’s poorest people by increasing food prices and triggering large-scale land acquisitions that deprive local communities of access to land, water, and food. Biofuels represent the intensification of an industrial model of agricultural production that destroys local ecosystems, contribute to climate change, and exacerbates food insecurity. Ironically, the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of many biofuels exceed those of the fossil fuels they replace.” From the Environmental Justice Implications of Biofuels, Carmen Gonzales, Seattle University School of Law Digital Commons US Corn Ethanol Fuels Food Crisis in Developing Countries by Timothy A. Wise, Al Jazeera, October 12, 2012
Real ambition vs. false solutions: what’s at stake during COP26, Center for International Environmental Law, 7 October 2021. Authors: Sebastien Duyck, Erika Lennon, Francesca Mingrone, Nikki Reisch and Lien Vandamme.
Uncertainty in estimating the climate effects of biofuels, EPA Workshop on Biofuel Greenhouse Gas Modeling, Richard Plevin, PhD March 1, 2022.
Biofuels Are Not a Green Alternative to Fossil Fuels, World Resources Institute, 2015
Why Decidating Land to Bioenergy Won’t Curb Climate Change, World Resources Institute, 2015
Biofuels Big Gas’s Latest Ploy: “Renewable Natural Gas”, Annika Hellweg, Conservation Law Foundation, Sep 20, 2020
Are Biofuels worse than fossil fuels? - Karl Mathiesen, The Guardian, November 2013