June 25, 2009

Reality Bites

FROM-Seattle Times

Washington should scrap biofuels mandate

THE city of Seattle and King County have abandoned their crop-based biofuels programs. So must Washington state.

The state must rescind its myriad laws requiring public and private use of biofuels. These laws force use of crop-based biofuels — the only biofuels available for mass consumption. Hoping and waiting for so-called "second generation" biofuels is denying the global devastation biofuels are wreaking now.

Overwhelming peer-reviewed, published science shows crop-based biofuels do two things:

• Cause hunger and starvation, affecting hundreds of millions of humans. This why the United Nations has called these biofuels a "crime against humanity."

• Cause rain forest destruction, releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and greatly worsening our climate crisis.

Whether the crop used for biofuel feedstock is grown in Washington or Canada or Malaysia doesn't matter. The devastation caused is equivalent. The idea of creating a homegrown Washington state biofuels industry is fatally flawed.

"If you use farmland in North America to grow biofuels, you're forcing a farmer somewhere else to clear-cut forest to grow food crops. You've effectively cut down a rain forest," wrote David Tilman in the February 2008 issue of Science. He's the lead author of the study, "Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt."

"We looked at all of the current biofuels that are being made around the world and asked if they were causing native ecosystems to be turned into land that would be used to grow the crop. Essentially, all of them are doing that."

The study found the conversion of natural lands to produce food-crop-based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia and the United States releases 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the annual greenhouse-gas reductions these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels.

Tilman's study and many others establish land-use change as the mechanism by which crop-based biofuels greatly worsen climate change. The federal Environmental Protection Agency, King County, the city of Seattle and climate scientists worldwide agree crop-based biofuels force adverse land-use change.

Fleet vehicles at the University of Washington show how current Washington biofuels laws are so harmful and must be rescinded.

Current state law — RCW 43.19.642 — requires state agencies to use 20 percent biodiesel to operate their diesel-powered vessels, vehicles and construction equipment.

This state law is widely ignored or minimally complied with. Washington State Ferries have received a two-year exemption from it. Complying would have cost $8 million extra.

But the University of Washington is already fully complying. It has been forced to burn crop-based biodiesel because that is the only biofuel available. Its diesel fleet vehicles are currently burning B-20, a 20-percent blend of American soy biodiesel made by Cargill. Cargill is the world's largest private corporation, with vast holdings in the rain forests of Southeast Asia and Brazil. It is also protested around the world for its environmental practices.

Last year, One Earth Climate Action group protested UW's use of canola biodiesel made by Imperium. UW was then burning fuel that was 2-percent biodiesel and planning to go to 5 percent. Our protest started direct communications with UW President Mark Emmert and Josh Kavanaugh, director of fleet services.

Kavanaugh agreed to delay the increase because of his concern that biofuels worsened climate change. But this year, state law forced Kavanaugh to increase the amount of crop-based biodiesel his fleet burns by tenfold, to 20-percent biodiesel. State law increased the climate damage from biodiesel used by UW fleet vehicles by a factor of 10.

The governments of the Northwest's biggest city and its most populous county have quit crop-based biofuels. The state of Washington needs to do the same. It needs to scrap its biofuels mandates now.

Duff Badgley was the 2008 gubernatorial candidate for the Green Party. He is the founder of One Earth Climate Action Group.

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