GREET Act would open doors for SD ethanol exports

There’s a bill in Congress that could provide a big boost to the ethanol industry and to South Dakota farmers.

The GREET Act, introduced in late August by U.S. Sen. John Thune and co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, would require the Environmental Protection Agency to update its greenhouse gas modeling for ethanol and biodiesel. GREET is an acronym for Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation.

South Dakota Corn is a strong supporter of the GREET Act.

“We know ethanol is a low-carbon fuel, and Senator Thune’s legislation to use sound science to update its carbon footprint at EPA is long overdue,” said Lisa Richardson, South Dakota Corn’s executive director.

The USDA found that greenhouse gas emissions from corn-based ethanol are 43 percent lower than emissions from conventional gasoline. However, there is no accurate, up-to-date model in place that incorporates sound scientific data. Richardson says policies and decisions are too often based on politics, but a science-based model would take the politics out of play.

Thune says that despite strong bipartisan support for updating its modeling, the EPA insists on using decade-old data on greenhouse gas reduction from use of ethanol. By adopting contemporary greenhouse gas modeling, the EPA would formally recognize the greenhouse gas reductions that are driven by biofuels.

“This would make American biofuels even more attractive to countries implementing clean fuel standards and other programs to lower their emissions,” Thune said. “And needless to say, increasing our exports of biofuels would be a shot in the arm to American corn farmers and ethanol producers whose operations are in jeopardy from the pandemic.”

The science on biofuels has dramatically improved in recent years and modeling needs to incorporate the new data. The bill would specifically require EPA to adopt either a model compiled by the Argonne National Lab or USDA methodology.

If this modeling is done, it opens up opportunities for our country’s biofuel industry to go into low-carbon markets throughout the world. Backed by science-based benchmarks, we could export more biofuels to countries that implement clean-fuel standards. When scientific standards are used, the ethanol industry will be able to compete with electric vehicles, Richardson said.

Extensive sampling of soil carbon has been done in recent years and the findings are promising. The research included sampling on many South Dakota farms in a project organized by the South Dakota Corn Growers Association. Core soil samples were collected from various soil types in different regions. South Dakota State University has also been involved in the project. Findings show excellent carbon retention in South Dakota soils.

David Clay, an SDSU professor of soil science, and Ron Alverson, an ethanol pioneer and former member of the South Dakota Corn board, have worked tirelessly for this cause and have shared findings and worked closely with officials in California, which has a low-carbon fuel standard. However, the opportunities extend far beyond California as other states and countries consider low-carbon standards and clean-energy bills.

A collaborative group of scientists, industry partners and producers has been working on quantifying carbon footprints, land-use changes, and management practices across South Dakota.

Analysis of approximately 90,000 soil samples from South Dakota farmers’ fields found a significant increase in soil organic matter in South Dakota soils since 1985.

The statistics present a pretty powerful and persuasive case for the environmental benefits of ethanol. Another important factor in our favor is that the Argonne lab continuously updates its information with new scientific data to keep it current. Although the GREET model isn’t perfect, it’s an enormous step in the right direction.

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