Advanced biofuels and agriculture are already playing a major role in tackling climate change. President Biden’s commitment that they will continue to play a significant role in the effort to reduce carbon is an encouraging step.
Even more encouraging is to hear the president’s cabinet and agency selections – particularly Tom Vilsack and Michael Regan – echo the president’s commitment. It is a welcome change from what we experienced during the last four years. Repairing the damage that was done to renewable fuels in the past four years is something Democrats should strongly support. And Republicans should also continue to provide support on behalf of the family farmers and rural constituents they represent. This has been and should remain bipartisan!
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said it best: this is a “why not” moment in addressing climate change. Biodiesel and renewable diesel are critical tools for reducing carbon emissions today. Why not guarantee they will be part of the future? Using these fuels, America can achieve significant carbon reductions while creating jobs, building new markets, and boosting family farm stability in rural America. That is success and progress in every respect.
Biodiesel and renewable diesel are at the heart of several specific state efforts to address carbon emissions right now. For example, since the start of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard in 2011, biodiesel and renewable diesel have generated more carbon credits than any other low-carbon fuel option – the equivalent of removing 5.5 million cars from the road. Oregon is achieving similar results, with about 46 percent of its annual carbon savings coming from these cleaner fuels. The carbon savings are equal to preserving about 6 million acres of forest.
Cities large and small are getting results too. New York City is tackling its biggest source of carbon and other emissions – its sanitation fleet – by switching to higher blends of biodiesel. Madison, Wisconsin’s fleet of trucks is aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by the end of the decade. Right now, 90 percent of the city fleet’s carbon emission reductions are coming from biodiesel.
And those cities are seeing both additional clean air and strong health benefits. Using cleaner fuels cuts particulate matter, hydrocarbon, and volatile organic compound emissions that increase risks of lung and heart disease. Illinois estimates that fleets using higher biodiesel blends achieved savings over five years of $700,700 in health cost reductions related to hospitalizations, lost workdays, and other health care expenses for their communities, according to the state’s B20 Club.
It’s time to fully recognize that there is a common interest in using clean fuels among states and big cities and the nation’s agricultural communities. All options that can cut carbon emissions today and build the net-zero carbon economy of tomorrow should be a constant part of America’s fight to address climate change.
More importantly, new policies should be based on a solid foundation that supports all low-carbon technologies.
Biodiesel and renewable diesel are growing and thriving today thanks to demand for low-carbon fuels. But their growth has been hampered – particularly over the last four years – by some bad decisions by the previous Administration dealing with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. The new EPA administrator, Michael Regan now must move swiftly to restore integrity to that program and repair the damage done over the past four years.
In 2005 and 2007, Congress created the Renewable Fuels Standard with overwhelming bipartisan support. But over time, a small number of political opponents found ways to undermine the policy’s goals and diminish its successes. The RFS promotes measurable carbon reductions and is encouraging the emergence of advanced biofuels. While biodiesel and renewable diesel are the first commercial-scale advanced biofuels, the industry is now bringing other options like sustainable aviation fuel and clean home-heating to market.
President Biden and his cabinet members should build on that success. One good opportunity to do that is counting the carbon reductions achieved through the RFS in our nationally determined contribution as we rejoin the Paris agreement. That would be an important recognition that the agricultural and biofuel sector has finally earned a place in plans to address climate change.
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Byron Dorgan, former Senator from North Dakota current Senior Policy Advisor at Arent Fox.