Opinion | Are Biofuels Bad for the Environment?

Opinion | Are Biofuels Bad for the Environment?

To the Editor:

Re “A Climate Solution That’s Bad for the Climate,” by Michael Grunwald (Opinion guest essay, June 12):

Mr. Grunwald stresses that “corn ethanol and soy biodiesel accelerate food inflation and global hunger” and points out that their production uses up a lot of land. It also uses an inordinate amount of water, which is scarce!

Crucially, Mr. Grunwald makes the connection between government fuel subsidies, which enrich farm owners by diverting resources away from the poor, and the reduction in land available to feed the rapidly growing world population.

Any effort to improve our climate that ignores population growth is looking at only one side of the equation.

Charles H. Gessner
Marblehead, Mass.

To the Editor:

Michael Grunwald, not today’s farmers, seems mired in the “horse-and-buggy era” of agriculture. Today’s farmers use cutting-edge practices to grow more on less land with fewer resources.

Since the Renewable Fuel Standard expanded in 2007, farmers have increased corn yields by 13 percent per acre, while planting fewer corn acres and using advanced precision technology to reduce inputs and improve sustainability.

When a bushel of corn is used for ethanol, producing that biofuel does not affect the supply of food nutrients from corn because the resulting protein, fiber and oil co-products are available for other valuable uses. Ethanol costs less than gasoline with nearly half the greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Department of Energy.

President Biden was right when he said we can’t get to net zero emissions without biofuels. Only biofuels, like ethanol, can cut emissions from the millions of vehicles on the road today and accelerate decarbonization to complement electric vehicle technologies.

The climate challenge is real, and we need many solutions, including agriculture, to succeed.

Neil Caskey
Chesterfield, Mo.
The writer is the C.E.O. of the National Corn Growers Association.

To the Editor:

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As Michael Grunwald points out, the Renewable Fuel Standard — which requires billions of gallons of biofuels, primarily corn ethanol, to be mixed into gasoline every year — is a key driver of grassland conversion in this country. Increasing the volume of biofuels that need to be blended into transportation fuels, a step the Environmental Protection Agency has enacted, is an enormous mistake.

Moreover, the E.P.A. urgently needs to stop allowing crops from recently plowed lands to qualify for the program, which is the main reason that the standard is driving grassland conversion. According to the original law, no biofuel crops from lands converted after 2007 can qualify as renewable under the program.

The E.P.A. must also encourage biofuel producers to adopt more sustainable practices, following the example of the international aviation industry’s globally accepted environmental standards for sustainable fuel.

If the E.P.A. takes these two steps, the Renewable Fuel Standard could help the U.S. agricultural sector achieve net zero emissions by 2040 and limit habitat conversion and species decline — all while supporting the viability of U.S. producers.

Right now, U.S. biofuels policy is working against these goals.

Suzy Friedman
The writer is the senior director of food policy at World Wildlife Fund.

To the Editor:

Contrary to Michael Grunwald’s assertions, internal combustion engine vehicles empower people, they don’t make life harder. They enable mobility, productive agriculture, power generation and access to water, among other things. They and renewable biofuels have to be part of any solution to climate change.

The country can’t meet its pledge to cut carbon emissions 50 to 52 percent over 2005 levels by 2030, or achieve net zero emissions by 2050, without vehicles using renewable biofuels. According to the Energy Information Administration, there will most likely be more than 250 million gas and diesel vehicles in 2050.

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The use of renewable diesel showed reductions in greenhouse gases of about 15 to 80 percent depending on feedstock source. Those include animal fats, recycled cooking oil and soybeans. These fuels currently meet 4 percent of the nation’s on-road diesel demand, and 28 percent in California. They’ve generated more cumulative Low-Carbon Fuel Credits (42 percent of total since 2013) than other transportation fuels.

Policies that diminish, rather than expand, the use of low carbon renewable fuels in vehicles will delay greenhouse gas reductions and are counterproductive.

Allen Schaeffer
Frederick, Md.
The writer is the executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.

To the Editor:

Re “I Studied Five Countries’ Health Care Systems. We Need to Get More Creative With Ours,” by Aaron E. Carroll (Opinion guest essay,, June 13):

Dr. Carroll’s survey of health care in other countries is enlightening. I agree with his call for universal coverage and for more spending on the social determinants of health. But he should not give up on single payer. Indeed, the U.S. must, for three reasons, establish a single-payer health care system.

First, providing universal coverage has proved to be impossible in a system increasingly dominated by private insurance companies.

Second, the multiplicity of insurers with different regulations, requirements and quality measures not only results in high administrative costs, for both insurers and providers, but also leads to patient frustration and severe clinician burnout.

Third, in search of profits, private companies and private equity are gobbling up health care delivery — hospitals, physician practices, nursing homes, even hospices. The money extracted for profits should instead be used for patient care, reimbursement of providers and improvements in social determinants.

I agree, however, with Dr. Carroll that compromises in single payer — in particular, allowing people to opt out of the public system — may be needed to win over the American public while still providing universal coverage, reducing costs and ending the search for profits.

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Paul Sorum
Jamaica Plain, Mass.
The writer is professor emeritus of internal medicine and pediatrics at Albany Medical College.

To the Editor:

In an effort to cater to the new Florida curriculum, publishers have begun making changes to their textbooks, revising and omitting references to race, even in the history of Rosa Parks. Already, the Florida Citizens Alliance has urged the state to reject over 70 percent of the textbooks that it has reviewed.

To justify Florida’s new rules, state legislators argue that current textbooks are compelling students to feel personal responsibility and guilt for what members of their race have done in the past.

We cannot erase history just because we do not like it. Much of history is regrettable and dismal, but there are many lessons to be learned from the past. I remember reading the story of Rosa Parks as a young girl. It had a significant effect on me. Are we now trying to instill ignorance in our young people?

Whitewashing history will not change it. With all the efforts and progress we have made toward inclusivity and equality, let’s not take a big step in the wrong direction. Let’s support legislators who fight for the social equality we’ve spent decades fighting for.

Brenda Lazzari
Salt Lake City

  • June 25, 2023