Will Massachusetts residents have to subsidize the agrofuel industry?
Last year the Governor and the Legislature created the Advanced Biofuels Task Force to assess the potential for biofuels (also known as agrofuels) in Massachusetts. One of the aims that the Governor, the Speaker, and the Senate President announced was to establish a volumetric mandate for biofuels, i.e. by 2010 all diesel and home heating fuel sold in the Commonwealth should contain 2% biofuels in their blends, with that amount rising to 5 percent in 2013.
The task force has taken testimony from across the Commonwealth and has published its draft summary recommendations. In view of the impact of agrofuels on food prices and carbon emissions, the testimony and the recommendations are important documents.
One of the recommendations is that Massachusetts should "develop standards for lifecycle evaluation that consider the carbon, environmental and economic impacts... including potential impacts on agricultural, forest and other land use in Massachusetts and on a global basis, using definitions like those used in California and included in the new federal energy law. These evaluations must include both direct and indirect impacts, as well as consideration of impacts on environmental justice."
So far so good. When we're deciding whether to throw public support behind a fuel whose backers present it in green wrapping it makes sense to consider the impact on the environment. But in keeping with the wishes of the Governor and legislative leaders the task force also recommends "carefully targeted mandates, such as requirements for minimum percentages of biodiesel in motor and heating fuel."
Among the witnesses offering testimony to the task force was the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), whose comments included a warning against setting mandates. Citing the experience of the European Union ("mandates gone awry") and the potentially disastrous results, the CLF "strongly advises against setting mandates." With an eye to the likelihood that the task force would recommend mandates anyway (which its draft does) CLF lays out four criteria that should serve as preconditions. One of those preconditions is tying the putative mandate to "a specified, verified reduction in greenhouse gases." In other words, the biofuel proponents should have to demonstrate that their product would ameliorate, rather than exacerbate, global warming.Perhaps I'm just not seeing it, but so far as I can tell the task force's draft recommendations contain no such requirements. To find out whether the Governor, Speaker, and Senate President incorporate CLF's common-sense conditions into their proposal, stay tuned.
By the way, I still haven't heard anything from the Deval Patrick administration about what Doug Rubin had in mind when he claimed his boss was showing national leadership on the environment (see "Doug Rubin's Spin" below).