EPA OK’s arundo, napier grass for renewable fuels

July 5, 2013 |

arundoIn Washington, The Environmental Protection Agency is issuing a supplemental final rule, containing a lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis for renewable fuels made from giant reed (Arundo donax) and napier grass, and a regulatory determination that such fuels qualify as cellulosic renewable fuel under the RFS program.

In the rule, EPA addressed concerns over the potential for these feedstocks to behave as invasive species by adopting a set of new registration, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements.

The Background

Last year, EPA published a proposed rule on January 5, 2012, and subsequently received adverse comment on certain aspects of the direct final rule and on March 5, 2012, EPA withdrew the direct final rule. Comments on that proposed rule focused on the potential for giant reed and napier grass to behave as invasive species.

In response to comments on the proposal concerning the risk of these crops behaving as invasive species and requiring remediation activities that may cause additional GHG emissions, EPA is adopting additional registration, record-keeping, and reporting requirements to minimize this risk. For example, EPA is requiring that renewable fuel producers demonstrate that the growth of giant reed or napier grass will not pose a significant likelihood of spreading beyond the planting area or that such a risk will be minimized through an EPA-approved Risk Mitigation Plan (RMP).

The RMP will include plans for early detection and rapid response to potential spread, best management practices as modeled by existing state and federal invasive species management programs, continuous monitoring and reporting of site conditions, a plan for site closure and post-closure monitoring, and identification of a third party auditor who will evaluate the performance of the RMP on an ongoing annual basis.

The Impact

Short term, this rule will have the most immediate impact on the proposed Beta Renewables project in North Carolina. At one point, the proposed BP cellulosic biofuels project in Florida was to have employed napiergrass, but that project was sidelined.

The Digest’s Take

It all comes down to your view on prior restraint, which is primarily a way of looking at freedom of the press, but can be applied to other areas of public and private life.

As Wikipedia puts it, “Prior restraint prevents censored material from being heard or distributed at all; other measures provide sanctions only after the offending material has been communicated, such as suits for slander or libel.”

Think immigration rights. Should a country — knowing that there is a risk that a given lawful visitor might transition to an undocumented illegal permanent resident — ban business visits and tourism?

It all comes down to the principle of whether a crop is banned because of what might happen, or what has happened. In general, it is coupled with a sense of the threat. Hence, we are required to drive slowly near school crosswalks because the risk is great, and the consequences catastrophic.

In this case, the EPA judged that the risk was low — even if the consequences are dire. It’s similar in some ways to the decision to take a car on the freeway or board an airplane or ship: the consequences of disaster are dire, but remote, and safety rules make them even more remote. It becomes an acceptable risk — a managed risk — instead of a rick avoided by prior restraint.

More on the story.

The complete ruling is here.

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