European Union Restricts Transportation Biofuels

Published November 6, 2013

By a vote of 356 to 327, members of the European Union Parliament approved a bill that would limit the use of biofuels in the EU’s transportation sector. Under the bill, biofuels will be capped at 6 percent of the fuels used in cars, vans, trucks, and similar vehicles.

Another provision in the bill provides 2.5 percent of biofuels blended into transportation fuel must come from nonfood sources, such as seaweed, algae, or certain kinds of waste. Before the bill can become law, it must be approved by the 28 member states’ governments represented in the EU Council. The bill’s provisions would take effect in 2020.

Political Tide Turning
The EU legislative action comes amid growing fears that fuels made from crops such as corn and rapeseed are harming both the environment and food supplies. Once seen as a way to reduce the use of fossil fuels, biofuels became politically fashionable in the European Union and the United States a decade ago and were promoted by an assortment of subsidies and mandates. However, political and environmental activist support for biofuels has waned in recent years.

Supporters of the bill pointed out new studies show biofuel subsidies and mandates create substantial negative environmental impacts in the form of indirect land use changes.

A recent report issued by EU Parliament member Corinne Lepage of France, for example, found, “The indirect land use change effects are not only environmental but also social, and are placing additional pressure on the land use, particularly in developing countries, which is having a negative impact on the food security of local people, in particular, women.” The report pointed out subsidies for food-based biofuels in the European Union encourage the production of energy crops on land that could otherwise be used for food production or left in its natural state.

Global Warming Fears
Fuels produced from food sources such as soy, palm, and rapeseed oil may also have a net carbon dioxide footprint that is heavier than everyday fossil fuels. Studies on the carbon dioxide impact of biofuels reach varying results, but the majority find the lifecycle carbon dioxide effects of biofuels are either similar to or greater than the carbon dioxide impact of fossil fuels. Supporters of the EU bill restricting transportation biofuels argue the bill will help prevent global warming.

U.S. Behind the European Curve
“It is good to see the EU Parliament understands the negative impactions of turning food into biofuels,” said Daniel Simmons, director of state policy at the Institute for Energy Research.

Simmons, however, pointed out U.S. federal law continues to mandate substantial market share for transportation biofuels. The industry has also received massive taxpayer subsidies in recent years, Simmons observed.

“Unfortunately, Congress and the Obama administration have done nothing to address the same problem in this country,” said Simmons

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.