Do Environmental Groups Really Want Solutions?

t rudnicki

By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq

Lately, some environmental groups have stepped up their attacks on biofuels. Some attacks are blatant while others are a bit more subtle like ignoring the legal definition of renewable biofuels and instead creating some fictional definition to serve the purpose of a photo opportunity. Some environmental groups seem more intent on subterfuge rather than building upon biofuels' success in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Here is some context for why I think it's important for all of us to be working together and using the tools we already have to reduce GHG emissions. According to NASA, "Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important heat-trapping (greenhouse) gas, which is released through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels.."

The NASA climate change website contains many measurements showing a rise in sea levels, decreases in land ice, decreases in the arctic's sea ice in the summer and an increase in global temperature. Based on some extensive measurements, CO2 levels are now at their highest level in 650,000 years. Even a non-scientist can draw some informed conclusions from NASA's data.

As such, if we collectively want to cut GHG emissions, we need to face reality and have an honest conversation about the pragmatic issues that confront us.

Consider, for example, that approximately a third of annual GHG emissions emanate from the transportation sector which still relies heavily on carbon-intensive petroleum. Last year, some 17.5 million new vehicles were sold in the United States and well over 99.5 percent of those vehicles are equipped with internal combustion engines.  

Given the service life of those vehicles, they will probably be on the road for at least another 12 to 15 years. Closer to home, 4.6 million vehicles are registered in Minnesota and all but about 3,500 use gasoline. 

While walking, biking or using mass transit may be an option for some, the vast majority still need to drive their gasoline-powered vehicles to get to their destinations. So how do we help those millions of people reduce their GHG emissions?

One simple option is to displace more gasoline with renewable biofuels, which have lower lifecycle GHG emissions, because nearly 90 percent of the vehicles on the road can use E15.

E15 has higher octane than regular unleaded, generally costs 10 cents less per gallon and, on average, each gallon of ethanol has 44 percent fewer lifecycle GHG emissions.

Additionally, according to the University of Illinois at Chicago, switching to E15 in Minnesota would cut GHG emissions by an additional 358,000 metric tons annually (based on data analysis conducted in 2015). Those emission reductions are the equivalent of removing 75,368 passenger vehicles off the road for a year. 

Some environmental groups might accept the science surrounding biofuels and GHG lifecycle analysis, but we know they still take issue with how biofuels are produced without having even studied or toured a modern ethanol plant. They miss, for example, the fact that Minnesota ethanol producers recycle their water (no discharge), recapture Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) from air emissions and use stormwater runnoff or treated municipal sewage for some of their process water. Today's 21st century ethanol plant operates even more efficiently compared to those operating just a few years ago. Read here for more details. 

Another issue some environmental groups challenge is the renewable ingredients used by ethanol plants. While MBA does not represent farmers, we did our homework. I have personally met with and interviewed some farmers who produce renewable ingredients for ethanol plants. I learned, for example, these farmers care about making a living today and the future wellbeing of generations of new farmers and all of us who depend upon the farmer and the land for food, feed, fiber and fuel. These farmers use, for instance, GPS and other modern equipment to minimize inputs and control runoff and they were doing so before Minnesota passed the buffer strip law. 

Finally, I want to emphasize that some Minnesota environmental groups are engaging with us to have constructive conversations about GHG emissions and the role of biofuels in reducing those emissions. Let's keep those conversations going. For all those other groups who purport to have an interest in reducing GHG emissions now rather than in the distant future, I invite you to engage with us as others have done so we can explore the scope of issues and how we can address them.

Energy security, consumer, economic and environmental benefits are already being derived from ethanol produced in Minnesota. Ethanol can play an even bigger role in reducing GHG emissions in Minnesota's transportation sector right here, right now. The challenge is for all of us to find a way to work together so we can maximize every GHG reducing solution.