Ethanol formula, climate bill collide in House

WASHINGTON Wed May 20, 2009 9:31am EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives must change existing biofuel rules if they want to pass a bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the House Agriculture Committee chairman said on Tuesday.

Rep. Collin Peterson, chairman of the panel, along with nearly four dozen other farm-state lawmakers, has sponsored a bill to amend the 2007 Energy law so indirect land use change will not factor into calculating greenhouse gas emissions from production of advanced biofuels.

For instance, the 2007 law penalizes makers of advanced biofuels such as biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol if farmers clear forest or grasslands for food crops to replace the crops devoted to biofuels.

Peterson and the bill's cosponsors say this unfairly makes it hard for ethanol and biodiesel makers to qualify as advanced biofuels under a federal mandate. Their bill also would make more land eligible to produce biomass for advanced biofuels.

"These are things we need fixed before we vote on climate change," said Peterson during a telephone interview.

He said the issue of biofuels intermeshed with the climate change bill being drafted by the Energy and Commerce Committee, to control greenhouse gases. As an example, he said lawmakers who want to change the ethanol formula also oppose suggestions to allow greenhouse gas offsets overseas.

"What it comes down to is, if they want the (climate change) bill passed, I think they better deal with us," said Peterson, referring to House Democratic leaders and Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Republican leader on the House Agriculture Committee, said the biofuels bill was a way to draw attention to the need to change the formula and to emphasize the potential of renewable energy in rural America.

The 2007 energy law directs the Environmental Protection Agency to consider indirect land use change within the United States and in other countries when gauging if biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics say there are no reliable ways to tell how much land is brought into crop production to make up for fields being used for biofuels. It is particularly difficult, they say, to prove the linkage in nations that are hundreds or thousands of miles away.

(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by David Gregorio)

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