March 3, 2015

When do companies like government mandates? When the government is mandating that consumers purchase the product they are selling.

Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature should reject the proposal to mandate that soy-based biofuels be blended with heating fuel. Many biofuels mandates were passed with the best of intentions – to reduce the use of fossil fuels and offer a low-carbon alternative – but they have failed to deliver the promised benefits.

The environmental benefits of food-based and land-intensive biofuels are questionable at best, because the food or animal feed production the biofuel crops replaces must then be grown elsewhere. Converting new land for agriculture actually causes extra carbon emissions and can lead to deforestation and the loss of biodiversity and wetlands.

Crucially, these mandates also have serious consequences for food security. Biofuels contribute to hunger by driving up the cost of food and increasing volatility.

In poor countries, families spend the vast majority of their income on food, so even small increases have a major impact. Biofuels also contribute to the problem of land grabs, where smallholder farmers are kicked off their land to make way for big plantations that grow crops for fuel.

Government mandates for biofuels have been extremely effective in one area: expanding biofuels production and consumption. A new report that we released last week found that government mandates will drive a 43% increase in biofuel demand over the next decade. This has serious and concerning implications for hunger and land rights.

There are some signs of progress in reversing these harmful impacts. Recognizing the problem with food-based and land-intensive biofuels, the European Union is considering reforming their mandate. In the U.S., legislation to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard has been introduced in both the House and Senate.

Adoption of local mandates, such as the one being proposed in New York, would be a step backwards. Our energy policies must not increase hunger. It’s time to reject government mandates for food-based biofuels.