Agri-Pulse thoroughly reported that the recently launched Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA) brought together organizations representing food retailers, agriculture producers, forest owners, and two leading environmental groups to take an important step in the fight against climate change. At the Corn Refiners Association, we celebrate this effort, but submit that bolder strokes that reach beyond the farmgate can enjoy bipartisan support and yield significantly greater progress.

FACA’s policy recommendations will help make a difference in the long and short term, fighting climate change on America’s forests, farms, and ranches. By enacting the Growing Climate Solutions Act, enhancing USDA conservation technical and financial assistance related to soil carbon and climate resilience outcomes, and creating a transferable tax credit system modeled after IRS 45Q, policymakers can assist farmers and ranchers working to adopt sustainability practices. And streamlining EPA’s renewable fuel pathway approval process would encourage innovation and accelerate the development of advanced biofuels with lower emissions.

These FACA agenda items are a great start, but there is much more that can be done. Any discussion of agriculture-related climate solutions should address President-elect Biden’s promise to grow the bioeconomy to improve our environment, including climate change, and strengthen rural economies. At the Corn Refiners Association, we believe that bipartisan solutions for that broader challenge are readily at hand.

A market-based bioeconomy that advances the environmental imperatives of climate change, municipal waste, water quality, and soil health is already taking root. It relies on renewable feedstocks and American innovation to create chemicals, products, and materials consumers and businesses depend on every day. Policies that advance the bioeconomy toward a circular economy, which considers environmental effects from product inputs through product disposal, are a readily attainable goal.  

Thought leaders on both sides of the aisle have advocated for growth in the bioeconomy. With the importance of swing state rural voters underscored by recent elections, that sound policy clearly makes for good politics. Here are the additional immediate steps that should be taken to grow the bioeconomy:

  1. Clarify Biogenic Emissions Policy. EPA recognition of the scientific consensus regarding the de minimis nature of biogenic carbon emissions from the use of agricultural crops is critical to the development of the bioeconomy. Such policy would allow for the construction, modernization, and improvement of agricultural processing facilities, meaning not only jobs and investment in the heartland, but the ability to compete in the international market for renewable products.
  2. Expand Procurement of Bioproducts. Further investing in and expanding the USDA BioPreferred Program would help it better keep pace with the stunning innovation in bioproducts and demonstrate federal leadership in moving to more renewable resources. Adoption of parallel state, local, and private sector procurement programs could further advance sustainability objectives and help bioeconomy innovators achieve cost reducing scale in demand for their products.
  3. Support Circular Infrastructure. Incentivizing state and local developments to improve composting and recycling infrastructure is necessary to transition to a circular economy that can help combat the climate impacts of our growing waste management crisis. Landfills are the third largest source of man-made methane emissions in the U.S., driven significantly by organic matter such as food and lawn waste. Of course, methane is a greenhouse gas more than twenty-five times more powerful than CO2. If that organic matter, assisted by compostable food packaging and serviceware, were instead sent to large scale compost facilities, these methane emissions would be avoided and municipal waste costs reduced because composting is more economical than landfills. Plus, the compost produced at those facilities is a valuable soil amendment that improves soil health and improves water quality.  
  4. Standardize the Bioeconomy. The bioeconomy will thrive as its products meet consumer expectations for sustainability, function, and cost. Federal leadership in clearly defining and standardizing key bioeconomy terms would avoid marketplace confusion and greenwashing, while establishing consistent tools for measuring the bioeconomy.  By fostering a transparent marketplace, consumer confidence in the bioeconomy will drive future growth.  
  5. Invest in Research. The bioeconomy is built on innovation that can help address climate change. Bioproducts are not only sourced from renewable feedstocks, they represent cutting edge technology that delivers environmental solutions. Plant-based polymers can be used to make lightweight car parts to improve fuel efficiency. Advanced bio-based chemicals can improve the properties of PET bottles, allowing their use in products sensitive to gas permeability, like beer which normally requires heavy glass bottles. With continued investment in bioproducts research, we can elevate the promise of the bioeconomy to help fight climate change.    

To be clear, today’s bioeconomy offers much, but it is not a panacea.  It is a pro-growth economy that takes account of environmental impacts and follows innovation toward an increasingly circular economy in which renewable feedstocks are used to produce products we conveniently reuse, recycle, or repurpose. It can even be bipartisan.

John Bode, President & CEO of the Corn Refiners Association