Biofuel crops invade gas tanks habitat

04-05-2012 // Danielle Venton - High Country News

This excerpt is from High Country News

From bindweed to tamarisk, invasive weeds are a scourge of many Western communities; certainly not something anyone wants more of. Yet a clause in newly proposed bill to promote biofuels energy may open up a loophole that would send federal dollars to pay farmers for planting and growing certain highly invasive plants as bioenergy feedstocks.

It turns out that many of the plants being grown or evaluated for biofuels are nasty, aggressive invasive things, at least for fans of native habitat. Weedy, speedy growing plants are, practically by definition, great potential bioenergy feedstocks.  And they're not all bad: Plant-based combustibles don't require drilling, don't spill catastrophically into the Gulf of Mexico, don't contribute to international conflicts and – so long as we can grow and harvest plants – won't dry up. For those reasons, hope and federal money is being poured, by the truckload, into biofuels.

Yesterday, the National Wildlife Federation released a report warning that many crops grown or being considered for biofuels come with a high risk of escaping crop fields, invading and damaging habitat. Currently, the Farm Bill-funded Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) provides money for farmers seeking to establish biofuel crops. Under current law, invasive or potentially invasive crops are excluded from this program. But according to Aviva Glaser, the legislative representative for agriculture policy at National Wildlife Federation, a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), would remove that clause, promoting the cultivation, and potential escapes, of invasive and genetically modified bioenergy feedstocks.

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