Carbon Roundup: Farm Bill & California vs. EPA

by Frank Ling

Farm Bill

2008 has indeed begun, but work from last year remains to be finished on the current Farm Bill. Most likely this month, the Senate and House Committees will hammer out their differences and come up with a compromise bill that will be sent to the president.

In the Senate version, there are provisions that have broad implications for energy and biofuels. In a recent update from the Action Network, the authors note that the bill:

* To help farmers and rural businesses save money and supply power to America, a better Section 9006 program (now renamed the Rural Energy for America Program – REAP) includes new energy technical assistance, larger loan guarantees, community wind incentives, and carveouts for small, replicable projects and digesters. ($230 million total versus $500 million in House Farm Bill.)

* An overhauled biorefinery program to help defray the cost of first-generation cellulosic ethanol plants; also encourages existing biorefineries and industrial facilities to convert to biomass-based heat and power (“Rural Repowering”).

* To help build feedstock supply for cellulosic biorefineries, an energy crop transition program that includes improved sustainability standards.

* To help defray production costs, production incentives for advanced biofuels.

* To develop a stronger knowledge base and help move energy crops from the laboratory to the fuel pump, funding and new priorities for the Biomass Research and Development program.

California Strikes Back

California has gone ahead with plans to sue the US EPA for its decision to block the State’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles. Until now, California was able to get a waiver from the EPA and set its own standards for managing air pollutants.

But the current administration believes that a new federal mandate would be more efficient in curbing emissions and has denied states to further waivers. In addition to California, 15 other states are now suing the EPA to get their rights back setting their own standards.

The battle is on. Felicity Barringer writes in the New York Times:

California officials argue that the agency had no legal or technical justification for blocking the new standards. The E.P.A. administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said when announcing the decision that a new federal fuel-economy mandate would be more efficient in curbing pollution than the state standards.

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

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