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Palm oil industry lobbies EPA to reverse palm oil biofuel findings

Deforestation for oil palm, which is used to produce palm oil, in Sumatra. PHoto by Rhett A. Butler

Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil processor and trader, has hired a major lobbying firm to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling that palm oil-based biodiesel will not meet greenhouse gas emissions standards under America’s Renewable Fuels Standard, reports The Hill.

Wilmar Oleo North America hired lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman to pressure the EPA on its finding that biofuels produced from palm oil do not offer substantial emissions savings relative to conventional gasoline. The EPA based its decision on analysis of lifecycle emissions from palm oil production, which at times occurs at the expense of carbon-dense rainforests and peatlands.

The Hill notes that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group that drafts legislative language favoring corporate interests that fund it, is working to overturn the EPA’s finding.

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to restrict the trade of tropical palm oil marks an abandonment of free trade principles that have been so beneficial to so many,” the group said in comments submitted to the EPA.

Malaysian and Indonesian groups have also complained about the EPA’s ruling. The period for comment on the matter closes April 27.

But environmental groups said the assumptions underlying the EPA’s conclusion were too conservative, noting that the agency expects only nine percent of palm oil expansion in Malaysia and 13 percent in Indonesia to occur on peatlands. But a study published today in the National Academy of Sciences, found that half of oil palm plantations in Indonesian Borneo were established on peat lands. Conversions of peat for plantations generates substantial greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is a disturbing development to see a politically motivated group like ALEC join forces with the shadowy palm oil lobby from Malaysia and Indonesia as well as with huge agribusiness companies Cargill and Wilmar to pressure the EPA to overturn what is supposed to be a science-based decision made in the best interests of the American people,” said Laurel Sutherlin with the Rainforest Action Network, in a statement. “The question the EPA is tasked with answering is whether biofuels made with palm oil meet our nation’s greenhouse gas requirements as a renewable fuel. The stark reality of the impacts of palm oil plantation expansion in Southeast Asia, where nearly 90% of the world’s palm oil comes from, makes it clear that it does not.”

“The emissions of palm oil based biofuels substantially exceed the emissions from conventional petroleum diesel,” added Jeremy Martin, Senior Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The renewable fuels standard targets 7.5 billion gallons of ‘renewable’ fuels to be blended into gasoline by the end of 2012. The initiative aims to reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut emissions from transportation, but some analysts have questioned the effectiveness of the program, since the bulk of ‘renewable’ fuel is expected to come from corn ethanol, which environmentalists say has mixed climate benefits.

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