European officials have the foresight and flexibility to admit that the worldâ€™s romance with bio-fuels is going sour. Why canâ€™t the USdo the same? Evidence is mounting that farming to meet the demand for biofuel feedstocks â€” mostly corn, soybeans, and sugar cane â€” is contributing to rising world food prices and deforestation. And the energy needed to produce fuel from food can cause a net increase in carbon emissions.
Faced with the facts, the Europeans didnâ€™t flinch. British and German energy ministers have recommended that their own ambitious production targets be scaled back. The European Parliament is considering new requirements that 20 per cent of its bio-fuels come from algae or other non-farm sources.
By contrast, the US Congress refuses to reconsider the mandates set out in the 2007 energy bill, which requires that 36 billion gallons of bio-fuels be produced each year by 2022. The farm bill that passed last month does make a nod to less damaging alternative feedstocks, such as switchgrass, but there is no legislative vehicle on the horizon to revisit the overall mandates. Last week the Massachusetts House passed a bill to promote efficient celluosic bio-fuels, with tax breaks and mandates beginning in 2010. Itâ€™s a more thoughtful way to encourage alternative fuels.