A range of biofuels companies and other interests, such as the biotech industry, leaned on EPA to withhold the indirect land-use change aspects of the rule and instead just publish its proposed methodology for review, alleging the science was incomplete.
But environmental groups lobbied the other way, stating that calculating emissions from land-use changes is needed to prevent future biofuels ventures that do not help curb levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
Nathanael Greene of the Natural Resources Defense Council praised the agency for moving forward, though he cautioned that it remains to be seen how EPA addresses the issue specifically.
"It is about time that we are digging into the substance of this and collecting the input that EPA definitely needs to take the proposed rule and turn it into something that is really workable and final," said Greene, the group's director of renewable energy policy.
"They have done some really rigorous scientific and economic modeling, and that makes me optimistic that the results will be valid estimates of the land-use emissions, but it is just too soon to know."
But Paul Winters, a spokesman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said EPA's decision to move ahead with measuring effects of indirect land-use changes is not a setback. "We are confident that EPA will show that biofuels do reduce greenhouse gases compared to gasoline," he said.
"The industry will respond to the proposed rule during the comment period and will use that to try and achieve consensus that the EPA's methodology is reflecting the real value of biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions," he added.
Governors call for task force Meanwhile, governors who support ethanol wrote President Obama on Feb. 19 to urge the creation of an interagency panel on the issue of lifecycle emissions of transportation fuels.
"This high-level task force led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would be charged with helping to resolve the debate over the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of biofuels," says the letter from the Governors' Biofuels Coalition, which is chaired by North Dakota's John Hoeven (R).
The 2007 energy law provides EPA flexibility on a number of areas, including the ability to revise downward the production and emissions levels in the mandate.
Argyropoulos noted that EPA would have to continually analyze whether the production levels can be met. Commercial cellulosic production has not begun ramping up, although some facilities are slated to come on line.
"It could be very, very promising, but there really aren't any commercial-scale biorefiners out there right now," he said of cellulosic ethanol. The expanded renewable fuels standard in the 2007 law calls for cellulosic ethanol targets beginning next year with 100 million gallons and escalating yearly, hitting 1 billion gallons in 2013 en route to 16 billion in 2022.