Original article published by NewScientist.com news service on 14:05 11 April 2007
The US Environmental Protection Agency announced new standards for renewable fuels for cars and trucks on Tuesday, but stopped short of committing to regulate greenhouse gases that spur on global warming.
The agency’s Renewable Fuel Standards Program aims to cut dependence on foreign oil and curb global warming pollution by expanding the use of ethanol and other alternative fuels.
“The [planned] increased use of renewable fuels … will prevent the release of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent of up to 13 million metric tons,” says Stephen Johnson, head of the EPA. “That’s equal to the carbon dioxide emissions of nearly 2.3 million automobiles.”
Carbon dioxide, emitted by petroleum-powered vehicles and coal-fired power plants among other sources, is one of the main greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.
The new standards, originally ordered by Congress in 2005, require that 4.02% or 21.37 billion litres (4.7 billion gallons) of all motor fuel sold in the US in 2007 must come from renewable sources. The standard will gradually increase to 34.1 billion litres (7.5 billion gallons) per year by 2012.
On 2 April, the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, although Johnson says that ruling was still being considered (see US Supreme Court forces EPA emissions rethink). “We are evaluating that Supreme Court decision and we’re looking at our options and what actions we may take,” he said at a news conference. “Today is premature to talk about it.”
In 2003, the environment agency refused to regulate greenhouse gases, saying that it lacked the power. California and 13 other states have proposed mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. But Johnson says, in the California case, this would not be possible until after that state’s petition is evaluated. The evaluation process will begin “shortly”, he adds.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, called the use of renewable fuels “an important part of the fight against global warming [that] also increases our energy independence.”
However, Boxer took aim at the Bush administration’s plan to develop such alternative fuels as “coal-to-liquids”. This involves the gasification of coal and the conversion of the resulting hydrogen and carbon monoxide into liquid fuel. But the process generates more global warming pollution than ordinary gasoline.
The Sierra Club – the oldest environmental group in the US – also applauds the renewable fuels standards, but echoes Boxer’s criticism of liquid coal and urges the Bush administration to raise fuel efficiency standards.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, another environmental group, sounds a similar note, also faulting the government for failing to limit emissions. “What is missing today?” says David Doniger of the NRDC. “Any sign that the Bush administration will follow last week’s Supreme Court decision, which ordered EPA to decide – based on the science and only the science – whether the pollution from cars and trucks is contributing to global warming.”
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* 06 March 2007
* US mobilises for a biofuelled future
* 24 February 2007
* Renewable Fuel Standards Program, EPA
* Environment and Public Works Committee
* Sierra Club
* National Petrochemical and Refiners Association