51 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2017 Last revised: 11 May 2018
Date Written: June 7, 2017
Modern energy policy aims to ratchet up the manufacture and use of biofuels, i.e. any fuel produced from biological materials. Yet biofuels derived from agricultural crops and residues, wood, forest residues, or other kinds of plant-based biomass feedstocks can be as environmentally and socially devastating as the finite fossil fuel resources they seek to replace. Often overlooked are their globalization impacts on land grabs, food security, greenhouse gas emissions, drought, deforestation, interference with climate change adaption measures, population displacement, desertification, sea level rise, biodiversity, and scalability. These environmental and social consequences result in food shortages, violent conflicts, urban riots, rural protests, and rising food costs. There is, however, hope for biofuels. Certain other types of biofuels, known collectively as second generation biofuels, are a more suitable alternative for global and regional energy needs because of their availability as well as their significantly reduced public health, environmental, and climate change impacts on society. These new biofuels are derived from algae, seaweed, food waste, and other plant and animal residues.
While these biofuels are a more appropriate replacement for fossil fuels than first generation biofuels, they too carry with them potentially significant impacts. Therefore, a cautionary analysis of regulatory and governance regimes for second generation biofuels is critical for improving innovation and investment for this energy resource. To that effect, I provide an inquiry into biofuel law and policy through the theoretical framework of science, technology, society, and the environment (STSE) to assess the hurried development of biofuels and how this biofuel gold rush has had adverse social, economic, and environmental consequences globally. This article concludes with two correlative policy interventions to counter the negative consequences of conventional forest- and agriculturally-based biofuels. First, I question the environmental efficacy of all biofuels as clean energy as defined by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), including those derived from natural resources that compete with food and timber supplies. Second, I argue that the more stringent Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), as implemented in California and British Columbia, would provide better social and environmental outcomes as a part of the national energy policy plan.
Keywords: Biofuels, Sustainable Development, Renewable Energy, Environmental Justice, Energy, Environmental Law, Natural Resources Law
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