EPA vs. Corn Huggers


To the casual observer, it might seem like corn-state representatives got a big win over the Environmental Protection Agency last week, as administrator Lisa Jackson vowed that pending biofuels rules will reflect “uncertainty” around the indirect emissions that come from land-use change related to biofuel production. But upon closer inspection, it sure looks like Jackson played Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and other corn-state Democrats on this issue, offering them a pittance so they’d back off attempts to thwart EPA rulemaking.

The EPA is currently considering working on a updates to the renewable fuel standard. Harkin and other ethanol supporters have sought to block the EPA from considering the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from land use change in their final rule.

Harkin had planned to introduce an amendment to the EPA and Interior appropriations bill that would block the EPA from spending funds to study and include international indirect land use change emissions in their rulemaking on the Renewable Fuels Standards for one year. But last Wednesday, Jackson sent Harkin a letter informing him that their analysis would attempt to account for uncertainty involved in indirect land-use emissions. “This analysis will allow us to quantify the impact of uncertainty on the lifecycle emissions,” the letter states. “We will present these estimates in the final rule, and I plan to incorporate those estimates of uncertainty in my regulatory decisions.” Yet the letter made it clear that studies thus far “indicate that it is important to take into account indirect emissions from biofuels when looking at the lifecycle emissions.”

Apparently, that was enough to fend off Harkin’s onslaught. “In light of the EPA letter, and because EPA had said it would delay issuing regulations to establish renewable fuel volume biofuel requirements for 2010, Harkin decided not to press the amendment today,” said Harkin spokesperson Grant Gustafson in a statement. “Harkin considers setting those fuel requirements in a timely manner as critically important to our national strategy for reducing our dangerous dependence on imported oil.”

But that’s not to say that Harkin and other corn-huggers won’t pull out a win in the end, when the EPA finalizes its rules. They also scored a win last week when the final EPA rule on reporting greenhouse gas emissions excluded ethanol producers, after listing them in the initial proposed rule.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.