- 15-17 August 2011, Sioux Falls, SD, USA: America's Grasslands Conference (Themes: agriculture, Conservation Reserve Program, grasslands, species)
- IUCN Report Highlights Biofuel Production’s Threats to Food Security, 6 October 2011 by IISD: "A new report commissioned by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and others, titled "Biofuels and indirect land use change," highlights findings that expanding biofuel production could displace agricultural production activities onto land with high natural carbon stocks, including grasslands and forests, with significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, biodiversity loss and threats to food security."
- "The report looks at the mitigation options considered by the European Commission for dealing with indirect land use change arising from the use of biofuels under the Renewable Energy Directive."
- Download the report, Biofuels and indirect land use change: The case for mitigation (PDF file).
- First EU sustainability schemes for biofuels get the go-ahead, 19 July 2011 press release by the European Commission: "In order to receive government support or count towards mandatory national renewable energy targets, biofuels used in the EU, whether locally produced or imported, have to comply with sustainability criteria. These criteria aim at preventing the conversion of areas of high biodiversity and high carbon stock for the production of raw materials for biofuels. In practice this means that biofuels made of crops that have been grown on land that used to be rainforest or natural grassland with a unique ecosystem cannot be considered as sustainable. In addition, the greenhouse gas emissions over the whole production chain need to be at least 35% lower compared to fossil fuels. That threshold will increase over time."
- "Companies can choose whether to demonstrate compliance with these sustainability requirements through national systems or by joining a voluntary scheme which is recognised by the Commission."
- "After a detailed assessment made by the Commission and various improvements the following schemes were recognised:
- ISCC (German (government financed) scheme covering all types of biofuels)
- Bonsucro EU (Roundtable initiative for sugarcane based biofuels, focus on Brazil)
- RTRS EU RED (Roundtable initiative for soy based biofuels, focus on Argentina and Brazil)
- RSB EU RED (Roundtable initiative covering all types of biofuels)
- 2BSvs (French industry scheme covering all types of biofuels)
- RSBA (Industry scheme for Abengoa covering their supply chain)
- Greenergy (Industry scheme for Greenergy covering sugar cane ethanol from Brazil)
- "The Commission is currently discussing with other voluntary schemes how these can also improve their standard in order to meet the sustainability requirements for biofuels."
- National Wildlife Federation Launches Lawsuit to Protect America’s Vanishing Grasslands, 22 April 2011 by National Wildlife Federation: "The National Wildlife Federation is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a bid to protect America’s vanishing grasslands. The EPA is ignoring laws designed to protect the fragile ecosystem from harmful and unnecessary agricultural production. The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) created by Congress and implemented by the EPA requires a certain amount of transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain renewable fuel, such as corn ethanol. In crafting the RFS, Congress clearly recognizes the need to protect America’s grasslands by limiting biofuel feedstock production and harvesting to agricultural lands. In other words, natural ecosystems, like grasslands, are not supposed to be converted for agricultural uses. However, the EPA is flaunting this important provision by adopting an 'aggregate compliance approach', which allows protected ecosystems to be destroyed for biofuels production."
- "'Plowing up our nation’s last remnants of native grasslands to grow more corn for ethanol is like burning the Mona Lisa for firewood,' said Julie Sibbing, Director of Agriculture programs for the National Wildlife Federation."
- "The National Wildlife Federation’s goal in this lawsuit is to ensure that the federal renewable fuel requirements are met in a way that protects natural ecosystems from environmentally damaging conversion to agricultural land."
- Biofuel grasslands better for birds than ethanol staple corn, 6 January 2011 press release by Michigan State University: "Developing biofuel from native perennials instead of corn in the Midwest’s rolling grasslands would better protect threatened bird populations, Michigan State University research suggests."
- "Federal mandates and market forces both are expected to promote rising biofuel production, MSU biologist Bruce Robertson says, but the environmental consequences of turning more acreage over to row crops for fuel are a serious concern."
- "'Native perennial grasses might provide an opportunity to produce biomass in ways that are compatible with the conservation of biodiversity and important ecosystem services such as pest control,' Robertson said...."
- "In the first such empirical comparison and the first to simultaneously study grassland bird communities across habitat scales, Robertson and colleagues found that bugs and the birds that feed on them thrive more in mixed prairie grasses than in corn. Almost twice as many species made their homes in grasses, while plots of switchgrass, a federally designated model fuel crop, fell between the two in their ability to sustain biodiversity."
- "The larger the plot of any type, researchers found, the greater the concentration of birds supported. But if grasslands offer conservation and biofuel opportunities, Robertson said, the biodiversity benefits could decrease as biofuel grass feedstocks are bred and cultivated for commercial uniformity."
- Read the paper, Perennial biomass feedstocks enhance avian diversity (PDF file)
- Bioenergy choices could dramatically change Midwest bird diversity, 8 October 2010 by David Tenenbaum: "Ambitious plans to expand acreage of bioenergy crops could have a major impact on birds in the Upper Midwest, according to a study published today (Oct. 4) in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)"
- "The study compared two approaches to bioenergy feedstocks: monocultures of annuals, such as corn, or perennial cultures of prairie plants and grasses."
- "The computer model that Meehan and Gratton developed showed that planting almost 21 million acres of perennial crops for bioenergy could increase bird biodiversity by 25 percent to 100 percent in some locales. The increase would be especially high in places like central Illinois and Iowa, where row crops are now dominant."
- "Land-use decisions are typically made based on a single factor such as crop productivity or profitability, Gratton says, but in fact, changing how land is used usually has multiple impacts. As a result, he says, 'People are starting to think about bundles of effects, on water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, or on beneficial insects that need certain habitats to survive.'"
- Energy Subsidies — Good and Bad, 28 July 2010 editorial by New York Times: "Congress must soon decide whether to extend federal tax subsidies for renewable energy that expire at the end of the year. The subsidies for wind, solar and geothermal energy are necessary to give these energy sources the help they need to compete with oil, coal and natural gas. While it renews those subsidies, Congress should end tax breaks for corn ethanol, which can stand on its own and is of dubious environmental benefit."
- "According to the Congressional Budget Office, the price tag last year for the ethanol tax break was about $6 billion."
- "This money mainly benefits refiners and big farmers, and could be better spent elsewhere — perhaps in developing more advanced forms of ethanol from grasses, scrub trees and plant wastes. Corn ethanol can actually increase greenhouse gases if grasslands or forests are ploughed for crop production."
- Surging costs hit food security in poorer nations, 6 June 2010 by Associated Press: "With food costing up to 70 percent of family income in the poorest countries, rising prices are squeezing household budgets and threatening to worsen malnutrition....Compounding the problem in many countries: prices hardly fell from their peaks in 2008, when global food prices jumped in part due to a smaller U.S. wheat harvest and demand for crops to use in biofuels."
- Corn Crowds Out Wildlife in Prairie Pothole Region, 13 January 2010 press release by National Wildlife Federation: "A new report shows how government incentives for corn ethanol are driving farmers to shift land into corn production, resulting in significant decreases in grassland bird populations throughout the fragile Prairie Pothole Region. The study analyzes the current and potential impacts of increased corn ethanol production on wildlife and habitat in the Prairie Pothole states of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota."
- "According to the report, U.S. ethanol capacity has grown almost 200 percent since the passage of the 2005 Energy Bill, which mandated a large increase in domestic ethanol production."
- "By identifying areas with the most dramatic land-use changes in Prairie Pothole states, researchers were able to see where there are 'hotspots' of increased corn plantings and habitat loss." The study's "results showed that counties with high increases in corn plantings had significant declines of nearly 30 percent in populations of sensitive grassland birds between 2005 and 2008."
- Download the full report:
- In Search of Wildlife-friendly Biofuels: Could Native Prairie Plants Be the Answer, 29 September 2009 by NewsWise/Michigan Technological University: "The unintended consequence of crop-based biofuels may be the loss of wildlife habitat, particularly that of the birds who call this country’s grasslands home, say researchers from Michigan Technological University and The Nature Conservancy."
- In an article in BioScience, researchers "analyze the impacts on wildlife of the burgeoning conversion of grasslands to corn for ethanol production".
- "What’s the solution? There are at least two ways to produce bioenergy without destroying wildlife [and habitat], the researchers say. One is to use biomass sources that don’t require additional land, such as agricultural residues and other wastes from municipal, animal, food and forestry industries."
- "Another is to grow native perennials such as switchgrass and big bluestem. The natural diversity of prairie plants offers many benefits, including increased carbon storage in the soil, erosion control and the maintenance of insect diversity, which does double duty by providing food for birds and helping to pollinate nearby crops."
- Biofuel carbon footprint not as big as feared, Michigan State University research says, 15 January 2009 by MSU News: "Publications ranging from the journal Science to Time magazine have blasted biofuels for significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, calling into question the environmental benefits of making fuel from plant material. But a new analysis by Michigan State University scientists says these dire predictions are based on a set of assumptions that may not be correct."
- "'Our analysis shows that crop management is a key factor in estimating greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use change associated with biofuels,' [MSU University Professor Bruce] Dale said. 'Sustainable management practices, such as no-till farming and planting cover crops, can reduce the time it takes for biofuels to overcome the carbon debt to three years for grassland conversion and 14 years for temperate zone forest conversion.'" 
- Soil Carbon Sequestration in U.S. Rangelands Issues Paper for Protocol Development (PDF) by the Environmental Defense Fund. This reports looks at issues such as agriculture, emissions offsets, grasslands, increased carbon sequestration, and soil.
|Elephant grass | Miscanthus | Switchgrass|
|Forests | Grasslands/Prairie|
What is bioenergy? | Benefits/Risks | Who is doing what?