What is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thinking? Although the GOP incessantly tries to stop the EPA from over-regulating, the environmental community believes it often doesn’t regulate well enough.
By approving mass plantings of two invasive species to be harvested for biofuels, the EPA is opening a ‘Pandora’s box’, experts warn.
The agency has ruled that biofuels made from Arundo donax (known as Giant Reed) and Pennisetum purpureum (Napier Grass) meet the 60% greenhouse gas emissions reductions threshold to qualify as second generation, cellulosic biofuels under its Renewable Fuel Standard.
This rule, first proposed early last year, has been publicly opposed by more than 100 state, local, and national groups, says the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
“By allowing producers to grow these two invasive plants for biofuel production, the EPA is recklessly opening a Pandora’s box,” says Aviva Glaser, legislative representative for agriculture policy at NWF. “We want to move forward with homegrown sources of renewable energy, but by doing so, we don’t want to fuel the next invasive species catastrophe.”
Originally from India and introduced in the US for erosion control, Arundo donax is listed as one of the world’s 100 most invasive species. It is almost impossible to control and is quickly spreading across Texas and the southern US – sure, let’s plant some more – LOTS more!
It chokes out native plants and ecosystems, clogs rivers and wetlands, but it is exactly those characteristics that make it tempting to use for biofuels – rapid growth, competitiveness and tolerance of a wide range of climate conditions.
Texas forbids planting Giant Reed in the state. It grows as high as 30 feet and forms dense stands which consume huge amounts of water. It’s blocking the flow of the Nueces River in Texas and last year volunteers spent almost three months hand-pulling sprouts along a 30-mile stretch. California is also battling the plant at costs between $5,000 to $25,000 an acre.
In its rule, the EPA admits that the crops are invasive, and it imposes additional requirements on registration, reporting and record keeping for the plants. "These additional requirements are necessary to minimize the potential that the feedstock will spread to areas outside the intended planting area."
"Assuming that best management practices will prevent the escape of highly invasive weeds grown on a large scale is naïve, risky, and dangerous. We’ve seen time and time again with invasive species that good intentions can result in expensive unintended consequences," warns Glaser.
"You can make money and a help native wildlife by growing native plants for bioenergy," says Steve Flick, board chair of the Show Me Energy Cooperative. "Missouri farmers are doing this right now as part of the Show Me Energy Cooperative, and it’s a model that can work throughout the country."
Rather than planting invasive species, why not clear out the ones we already have and use that for bioenergy? They are already swallowing just about every ecosystem we have.