During US President Barak Obama’s inaugural address, the president declared that confronting the challenge of climate change would be a priority in his second and last term. While this is a welcome commitment to tackling one of the world’s greatest challenges, ongoing efforts to exclude palm biofuels from the US energy market will significantly undermine President Obama’s ambition.
In January 2012, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a preliminary ruling declaring that palm biofuels do not meet the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions threshold of 20 percent reduction for biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard. This preliminary ruling is currently under review by the agency following a recent fact-finding mission to Malaysia and a robust consultation period.
Independent analysis in Europe and Malaysia have demonstrated that palm biofuels enjoy emissions reduction of at least 60.4 percent, and even reaching as high as 74.7 percent, which the fact finding missions from the EPA saw firsthand in Malaysia. Dr Robert Shapiro, former Undersecretary of Commerce under President Clinton, submitted comments to the EPA declaring a more accurate assessment to be between 58 and 64 percent. Dr Shapiro’s comments note that the EPA relied on distorted and inaccurate assumptions of the Malaysian palm oil industry’s practices, including by ignoring the significant advances being made in improving yields – in some cases by as much as 90 percent.
This discrepancy in assessments between the EPA and other experts has significant implications for the carbon footprint of the US and its role in international efforts to reduce emissions. US GHG emissions in 2010 totaled 6.82 billion tonnes, or almost 22 percent of global emissions, making it the second largest emitter in the world. If the US is serious about reducing emissions, it is vital that the country look to any and all energy sources available that will most effectively reduce emissions – including palm biofuels. Even President Obama explained his policy on alternative energy as an “All of the above” strategy.
The Malaysian palm oil industry applauds President Obama’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions and welcomes the opportunity to work with the President and US regulators to ensure that his goals are achieved. By ensuring open access to all sustainable biofuel sources and removing distortions of our industry’s practices, the US has an opportunity to make unprecedented emission reductions by using palm biofuels. The US has a great deal at stake in the EPA’s review of its preliminary ruling on palm oil.