Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) assumes that growing grains for biofuel production displaces other crops, which are then grown in other parts of the world, leading to deforestation. The theory is flawed, speculative and withstands no credible scrutiny.
Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) is an untested and heavily disputed theory that assumes corn used for ethanol will displace other crops, like soybeans, and in turn, cause farmers in other countries to cut down rainforests to grow soybeans and fill the demand. Estimates vary drastically depending on the assumptions of the researchers. Some are based on false or out-of-date assumptions. More dependable recent studies have shown no indirect land use change in other countries due to U.S. ethanol production. They have shown that corn-based ethanol production is far better for the environment than oil.
According to the National Institute of Space Research, deforestation in the Amazon has declined sharply just as American biofuels production doubled. In 2004, 10,588 square miles of the Amazon was deforested and in 2009/10, that number dropped to 2,490.7 square miles. Meanwhile, U.S. ethanol production has gone from approximately 3 billion gallons in 2004 to approximately 13.23 billion gallons in 2010.
Myths and Facts about ILUC
MYTH: Increased U.S. ethanol production is causing Brazilian deforestation.
FACT: Since 2004, the total number of square miles deforested in the Amazon has been cut in half, while the total number of gallons of American ethanol production has nearly tripled.
MYTH: There is widespread agreement in the scientific community that ILUC is real.
FACT: The theory employs no empirical evidence and is highly controversial. No consensus in the scientific com- munity as to its validity has been achieved. The data/facts contradict the theory. Many scientists challenge the credibility of economic models used to approximate the theoretical values of GHG missions projected from ILUC. Even EPA Administrator Jackson noted the significant uncertainties associated with ILUC in a Sept. 23, 2009 letter to Senator Harkin.
MYTH: Land diverted for increased corn production used for ethanol leads to sharp decreases in American grain exports.
FACT: Even with increased ethanol production, corn production has been able to meet and exceed the demands for food, fuel and exports. In 2007, the U.S. produced a record 13 billion bushels of corn. In 2008, American farmers produced more than 12 billion bushels of corn, the second largest corn crop ever. Since 1998, corn exports have remained at 1.5-2.5 billion bushels annually.
MYTH: The ILUC penalty applied to biofuels will reduce carbon emissions.
FACT: The ILUC penalty on biofuels would abandon the “polluter pays” principle, which states the party responsible for producing pollution is responsible for paying for the damage done to the environment. If a party that is engaged in deforestation activities is not held responsible, yet another party (American farmers) are penalized, it is unlikely those individuals will change their practices of deforestation.
MYTH: The U.S. Congress fully supports ILUC theory.
FACT: The provision was not at all debated before its inclusion in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives included a provision in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) that prevents EPA from implementing the ILUC rule for six years, until the National Academy of Sciences thoroughly studies whether the theory is corroborated by actual scientific evidence.
MYTH: It is appropriate to penalize biofuels with the ILUC theory because other fuels are similarly penalized.
FACT: American biofuels are inappropriately singled out by the ILUC theory. EPA’s proposed rule does not account for the international or domestic indirect land use impacts of other transportation fuels such as Middle East oil, Canadian tar sands oil or coal-fired electricity needed to power plug-in hybrids.
MYTH: Farmers are plowing up forests and breaking native ground to grow more corn.
FACT: Thanks to advances in technology, corn farmers have consistently increased crop yields so that today, they grow five times as much corn as in the 1930s on 20 percent less land. Average corn yields have gone from 91 bushels per acre in 1980 to 152.8 bu/acre in 2007. Similarly ethanol yields have increased from 2.4 gallons per bushel in 1980 to 2.81 gal/bu in 2007.