A study soon to be released by the Department of Energy, titled “Empirical Data and Decomposition Analysis of U.S. Corn Use for Ethanol Production from 2001-2008.” A presentation summarizing the results of the study was given in California to encourage the eligibility of corn ethanol in California’s low carbon fuel standards. The abstract concludes:
The results of this study provide little support for estimates that assume large land use conversion or diversion of corn exports due to ethanol production in the U.S. over the past decade.
And a bullet point from p. 12:
The analysis suggests minimal to zero indirect land use change was induced by use of corn for ethanol over the last decade.
The study is laughably incomplete as it doesn’t look at a comparative baseline analysis of what would have happened without the increased demand for corn. As NRDC’s Nathaniel Greene notes:
ORNL’s own conclusions acknowledge the limitations of their study. But despite this, they willfully bury these key caveats and misstate what can be reasonably concluded based on their study. While they reiterate that analysis of empirical data over the period 2001-2008 has led them to certain conclusions, they acknowledge that “understanding the interactions of policy with baseline trends”, they say, “is crucial to improve estimates of policy effect on land use”. They then go on to say that while analysis of this data can illustrate how the economy actually adjusted to biofuel policies that increased demand (and supply) of corn for ethanol [in the past], “more detailed analysis of policy effects on prices is needed”.
What they should have said is that since they didn’t look at any baseline without policy or any price-demand interactions, they actually can’t say anything meaningful about the land-use change induced by US policies.
Unfortunately in this case the willful ignorance is being pushed by the Department of Energy in order to support Obama’s biofuel policies. So much for his claims to govern by science. The Renewable Fuels Association quickly touted the study and attacked other studies which came to less flattering conclusions.