SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Ethanol producer POET LLC is one of about 408 companies that signed a letter to President Joe Biden to develop a plan to cut GHG emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.
In addition to POET, companies such as Walmart, Target, General Motors and the Ford Motor Company formed the We Mean Business Coalition to call for dramatic reductions in greenhouse emissions.
President Biden formally announced a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions 50% by 2030, in this Earth Day 2021.
Doug Berven, vice president of corporate affairs for POET, said the company is excited to be part of a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions.
“We certainly appreciate aggressive climate (improvement) goals because that’s what we’ve been doing for decades,” Berven said.
POET has 27 ethanol plants in eight states including five in South Dakota.
“The biofuels industry and the ag industry will do more than pull their own weight,” when it comes to reducing greenhouse emissions, Berven said.
The EPA has noted the greenhouse emissions caused by human activity has increased by 7% from 1990 to 2014, but there has been been a slight decrease since 2005.
Transportation is the second largest cause of emissions, according to the EPA. Electricity is the largest cause.
In terms of transportation, ethanol should have time in the driver’s seat with greenhouse reduction.
Various studies over the past five years released through the USDA, Minnesota Biofuels and lab researchers universities show that ethanol fuel or blends can reduce greenhouse emissions by 34%, 39% or 46% over gasoline.
Berven said the U.S. and the world are moving away from fuel and energy taken from the center of the earth to energy produced at the surface.
South Dakota produces about 7% of the ethanol in the U.S. The state produced about 26 million barrels of ethanol as of April 2020. About 1.2 billion barrels are used in the state, according to the U.S. Energy Administration.
The U.S. used about 14.16 billion gallons of ethanol fuel, which is about 10% of the total fuel used in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Administration.
Gov. Kristi Noem and others worry about land conservation in Biden’s plan
According to the POET website, each typical plant is expected to consume about 21 million bushels of corn each year.
Another plant in South Dakota, Dakota Ethanol, uses 20 million bushels a year, according to the South Dakota Ethanol association.
The South Dakota Soybean Checkoff organization said in 2019 that one-quarter of all soybean oil used in the U.S. went to biodiesel use. In 2017, two billion gallons of biodiesel were used and the amount had grown in 2019.
As to more land needed for ethanol production, “We don’t need more land. We need to soak up the surplus that’s available,” Berven said.
State leaders have concerns about what they call the 30 x 30 piece of Biden’s plan, according to a letter submitted by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and 13 other governors, including Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Gov, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, all Republicans, and governors from Idaho, Montana, Texas, Alaska and Utah and others. Concerns were for federal, state and other lands and waters. The governors of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and Illinois, for example, where there are also federal and state lands and agriculture, did not sign the letter.
The letter, posted by Ricketts and Noem today on their own Twitter accounts, said they worry about Biden’s goal to conserve 30% of the U.S. land and oceans.
According to the EPA, about 22% of the 2019 greenhouse emissions in the U.S. are from agriculture, general land use and forestry.
According to the White House fact sheet, the goal is to conserve at “least 30% of our lands and oceans by 2030 and launches a process for stakeholder engagement from agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, Tribes, States, Territories, local officials, and others to identify strategies that will result in broad participation.”
The letter from the governors mentions agriculture but lists questions about the process and if land will be managed like wilderness areas and what the criteria will be for conserving land. The governors also said in the letter it was their responsibility to ensure that certain federal land and state lands were used to provide food and other resources important to a robust economy and national defense
“We are all for conservation,” Berven said of conserving land. “I think it’s how you do it is the question.”
Farmers, for example, respond better to incentives rather than penalties, Berven said.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has said the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will be part of the conservation of land in the U.S.
The USDA announced an expansion of the CRP program on April 21. The CRP program is designed to take marginal farmland out of production and instead, develop it for wildlife habitat and similar use.
Farmers started to farm former CRP acres after the federal government made cuts to the CRP program, Berven said.
Also, the USDA said it would be investing in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture. The investments include $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, according to a USDA news release.
Where does South Dakota fit in greenhouse emissions?
South Dakota is ahead of many states when it comes to renewable energy so it may already be helping Biden hit his goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 52% by 2030.
In 2019, renewable resources provided about 68% of South Dakota’s electricity net generation. Hydroelectric power accounted for almost 45% of total generation and wind about 24%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
A lot of that hydroelectric power produced in the state comes from the federal Oahe Dam, which produces 2.8 billion kilowatts annually, which is enough electricity power of 259,000 homes each year according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While South Dakota gets some of that power, the Western Area Power Administration sells hydroelectric power from Oahe and the federal Garrison Dam to customers in other states in the U.S.
Although the state has fewer than one million people and corresponding electrical use, the state must still buy power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In addition to wind, water and other renewable energy sources, the state uses 1.7 million tons of coal each year for electricity and industry use and the use of natural gas has increased in the past several years, according to the federal government.
Greenhouse emissions are measured in million metric tons. The higher the number, the more the emission.
The state’s greenhouse emissions came in at 14.6 million metric tons of carbon in 2017, according to knoema. Knoema is a data website.
The greenhouse emissions in the state tended to increase through the 1998 – 2017 period. According to the Federal Reserve in St. Louis, the state’s greenhouse emissions from all fuels was 14.19 million metric tons in 2015, down from 15.43 in 2014.
Still, South Dakota’s emission load is less than many states. For example, Iowa officials said in December 2019 the state’s annual total greenhouse emission was 137.49 million metric tons in 2018. The increase from 2017 to 2018 was attributed to an increase in the generation of electricity from fossil fuels.
Minnesota had 161 million metric tons in 2018, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.