The trouble with ethanol

Jes freakin' lovely.

The trouble with ethanol

Instead of producing clean, green biofuels, industry bigwigs are pushing for coal-fired plants and relaxed regulations. And the EPA is listening.
More and more ethanol manufacturers are looking to power their plants with cheap coal instead of its cleaner and increasingly expensive competitor, natural gas, thereby potentially limiting ethanol's environmental benefits. And the Bush administration is doing its part to accelerate this trend. Under pressure from a group of senators and representatives from corn- and coal-producing states, the U.S. EPA is considering a rule change under the Clean Air Act that would relax pollution regulations on ethanol plants, clearing the way for them to burn coal with fewer restraints.

While only four of roughly 100 ethanol plants currently operating in the U.S. are powered by coal (practically all of the rest are fueled by natural gas), some 190 more are under construction or soon to be built. One energy analyst, Robert McIlvaine, president of the Illinois-based research group McIlvaine Co., predicts that “100 percent” of new ethanol plants built in the U.S. over the next few years will be coal-fired, “largely because of the exorbitant cost of natural gas right now, and the comparatively predictable future supply of homegrown coal.” A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor also points out that many ethanol manufacturers are increasingly being drawn toward coal.

In March, the EPA -- reportedly at the behest of at least one corn-state politician -- proposed changing a rule in order to let ethanol-fuel plants more than double their air emissions, from 100 tons per year of any pollutant regulated under the Clean Air Act to 250 tons per year.

“This proposal is clearly designed to usher in this wave of new coal-fired plants -- loosening the rules so that the facilities can be bigger, dirtier and cheaper,” says Greene's colleague John Walke, director of NRDC's clean-air program. Walke warns that if the EPA approves it, his group might file suit. While ethanol-fuel manufacturers can build coal-fired plants under current rules, the facilities have to be kept relatively small to meet pollution restrictions, and must undergo a rigorous permitting process.

On the other hand, a bipartisan group of 33 members of Congress led by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., threw its support behind the proposed rule change earlier this month in a letter (PDF) to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson. The Renewable Fuels Association, an industry trade group, also backs the change.

So in other words, the current hype for ethanol is being utilized by energy companies as a way to weasel out of emissions control. Great.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on May 30, 2006 8:53 AM.

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