The Obama administration is poised to make one of the biggest climate policy decisions of its entire administration – and it’s not about coal, oil, or gas, but rainforests. EPA is deciding whether or not palm oil should be included in the Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates that American motorists use 36 billion gallons of biofuel in their cars and trucks by 2022. In order to qualify for inclusion, palm oil would have to cut greenhouse gas pollution by at least 20 percent compared to gasoline.
Which means that it should be an easy call: Of all the biofuels, palm oil causes by far the most pollution because much of it is grown by clearing and burning dense rainforests, many of them on carbon-rich peatland, to make room for plantations. That widespread deforestation has made Indonesia the world’s third biggest global warming polluter, just behind China and the United States.
EPA recognized some of the problems with palm oil in its draft finding that palm oil does not qualify for inclusion in the RFS … but just barely. However, a close look at EPA’s draft finds that it used old and deeply flawed data to systematically underestimate the emissions from palm oil. For instance, the analysis draws on data on plantation expansion that ends in 2003 – not taking into account how much worse the palm oil industry has gotten since then.
Newer studies from the National Academies of Science and the International Council on Clean Transportation find that the palm oil industry’s carbon footprint just keeps getting bigger: