Part of the Climate Solution

FROM THE MAY ISSUE: Highlighting ethanol's role in reducing GHG emissions.
By Brian Jennings | April 15, 2019

Congress is going to confront the issue of climate change in 2019, which means our industry has a choice to make. We can either stand on the sidelines or get in the game.
I believe the ethanol industry needs to engage. I am not talking about breathing life into the New Green Deal, but rather proactively advocating for reasonable policies that would increase the use of ethanol as part of the solution to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is well-documented that ethanol today reduces GHGs by nearly 50 percent compared to gasoline and the trend is ethanol’s friend—our emissions continue to drop while gasoline keeps getting worse.

My fear is that if we stand on the sidelines, because of political or philosophical opposition to climate science, the void we leave will be filled by extremists who will paint corn ethanol as part of the climate problem. We cannot afford to be silent on this issue. (By the way, it is vital to get our brains around the fact that climate science is real. It is as real as the science behind the safety of GMOs).

While I have a strong opinion on this issue, I also fully grasp that many people in rural America, who are already under tremendous economic stress, are extremely concerned Congressional action on climate could pose significant new costs or limits on business. This is another reason we need to engage in this debate and be vocal about the fact that rural America will need to see concrete economic benefits from climate-centered policies that outweigh potential negatives. We need to stand up and let Congress know there is no margin for error.

One way to thread this needle is to recognize the positive impact agriculture and low-carbon fuels like ethanol can have on climate change. Farmers play an important role in mitigating climate change through practices such as conservation tillage, which can lead to soil carbon sequestration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies sequestration as “among the best options for carbon storage in terrestrial ecosystems,” and estimates that U.S. farmers already store 20 million metric tons of carbon per year. USDA forecasts that agriculture could store an additional 180 million metric tons per year, representing an estimated 12 to 14 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions annually.

Unlocking the marketplace to increase demand for low-carbon fuels would create the economic driver needed to help more farmers adopt practices that maximize atmospheric carbon sequestration in soil. For example, if the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard accounted for soil carbon sequestration benefits from corn production, Midwest ethanol delivered to the LCFS market could receive a 26-cent-per-gallon premium at current credit prices in California and at current soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration rates found in the Midwest. This would generate an additional $26 million in revenue per year for a 100 million-gallon ethanol facility, creating meaningful rural economic and producer benefits.

To underpin the scientific and economic opportunity for ethanol use to increase via low-carbon fuel markets, last year ACE published “The Case for Properly Valuing the Low Carbon Benefits of Corn Ethanol.” Our report highlights how farmers and ethanol producers are improving efficiencies and adopting technologies to dramatically reduce life cycle GHG emissions from corn ethanol. This report explains how increasing the use of corn ethanol beyond levels called for in the Renewable Fuel Standard will help reduce GHGs. It also calls on the U.S. EPA to adopt the latest U.S. Department of Energy Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model for making determinations about ethanol’s life cycle GHG emissions.

Already, many ethanol producers have experienced the economic benefit of selling product into the California LCFS market. It is possible for a similar opportunity to unfold nationally as Congress considers ways to tackle climate change. ACE will be getting in the game, going on offense to explain how increasing the use of corn ethanol should be part of the solution to reduce GHG emissions.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol