Senate passes biofuel mandate bill

Canada’s Senate on Thursday passed the federal government’s biofuel bill, giving the government authority to create mandatory minimum renewable fuel content in Canadian gasoline and diesel.

The government plans to have a five per cent renewable fuel mandate for gasoline by 2010, and a two per cent renewable content rule for diesel fuel and heating oil by 2012.

Bill C-33 gives the government the authority to regulate the blending of conventional and renewable fuels, and allows the government to track exports in order to make accurate calculations of the volume of renewable fuels as a percentage of the total fuel used in Canada, the government said in a release late Thursday.

“It also provides the authority the government needs to lift the administrative burden renewable fuel regulations would place on small producers and importers,” the government wrote.

However, members of the Senate energy, environment and natural resources committee, who voted to recommend passage of C-33, qualified their support in a statement Friday.

“We have made sure to highlight our preoccupation with how the forthcoming biofuel regulations will ensure that tax dollars are being spent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that farmers will be able to cope with and benefit from biofuel inclusion, and that human health will not be compromised,” said Pierre-Claude Nolin, a Quebec senator and vice-chair of the committee.

“The committee felt that while it was important to allow the government to implement regulations with respect to biofuel inclusion, the concerns expressed by many of the witnesses before the committee will feature prominently in our future work and in our examination of any legislation going forward,” said committee chair Senator Tommy Banks of Alberta in the Senate’s release. “We trust that the government will heed this concern when developing future biofuel regulations.”

“Little or no benefit”

Among the presenters to the Senate committee was Colleen Ross, women’s president of the National Farmers Union, who said in a release mandating five per cent ethanol in Canadian gasoline would “aggravate the global food crisis while offering little or no proven benefit to the environment or farmers.”

In an NFU release Wednesday, Ross said she told the committee that C-33 is “likely to accelerate the diversion of grain from food to fuel markets. Any benefits to farmers from short-term increases in grain prices will quickly be wiped out by steep hikes in input costs.”

“The small window of opportunity farmers have to make any real money from our crops will quickly close as input suppliers and grain traders siphon off the profits,” she said. “In fact, the massive increase in input costs have forced farmers to go to the bank for short-term loans just to put this year’s crop in the ground. Meanwhile, seed, fertilizer and chemical companies are boasting of new record profits.”

Other farm and industry groups, however, cheered the passage of the bill. “Bill C-33 provides the certainty that will allow a value-added biodiesel industry to become established in Western Canada,” said JoAnne Buth, president of the Canola Council of Canada. “We have no doubt that Canadian canola growers can produce the seed needed for a two per cent biodiesel inclusion rate in Canada. We are already doing it.”

A million tonnes of canola seed would be required to make up 70 per cent of the feedstock for biodiesel production. The carryover of canola seed has been more than 1.3 million tonnes for each of the last three years.

“It’s vital that we support domestic production and infrastructure to ensure Canadians don’t have to rely on imports of ethanol. We should instead work to build the capacity to produce it here,” said Bob Friesen, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

“Our vision is to see numerous ethanol manufacturers across Canada, rather than only a few centralized manufacturers in order to further lower transportation costs for farmers, decrease greenhouse gases and create jobs in various regions of Canada.”

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