The European Parliament's environment committee voted today (17 October) to again deny a negotiating mandate to Corinne LePage, the French Liberal MEP in charge of a proposal to restrain the use of biofuel.
The refusal will mean the legislation will likely pass into a second reading, which will delay it for at least a year because of the approaching end of this parliamentary term in April 2014. Centre-right MEPs, which form the largest group in the committee, voted against giving a mandate for LePage to begin negotiations with member states.
The European Commission has proposed to cap the use of ‘first generation' biofuel suspected of causing indirect land use change (ILUC) and generating more greenhouse gas emissions than it abates. But the proposal has provoked fierce resistance from most of the biofuel industry.
Last month, MEPs backed the cap proposed by the Commission, but did not give LePage a mandate to begin negotiations. A coalition of businesses and NGOs including British Airways, Novozymes and WWF had written to MEPs ahead of today's vote urging them to give a mandate.
Environmental campaign group EEB said today's vote will “wipe out any chance of setting this policy right before irreversible damage is done.”
“Today's vote shows the willingness of several European Union representatives to pander to vested interests while ignoring environmental and social concerns,” said Faustine Defossez of EEB. “This refusal to set the policy on the right track rapidly is anything but a gift for the biofuel industry though it might consider it as such in the meantime. This vote increases uncertainties around the future of the biofuel industry while by allowing emissions, social and environmental damages to further increase, it will increase the unpopularity of this policy in the eyes of the European citizens.”
Biofuel companies that make the first generation biofuel have argued that the proposal would kill their fledgling business and ruin the investments they have made based on the original EU policy to encourage biofuel. They say the science on ILUC is too uncertain to make policy around it.
“After the publication of up to date authoritative studies on ILUC a widening range of decision makers supports a more prudent and open-minded approach” said Raffaello Garofalo, EBB Secretary General. “Even MEPs close to Ms Lepage realised that early second reading would not have provided sufficient time to assess the relevance of science used in policy."
But campaigners say the cap will give the incentive for a switch to second-generation biofuel which will need to happen eventually anyway. Biofuel companies specialising in second-generation fuel were disheartened by the vote. “This is bad news for industry and investors who need clarity," said Kåre Riis Nielsen, director of European affairs for Novozymes. "Ongoing regulatory uncertainty is jeopardising all the parallel EU efforts to attract much needed investments in innovative renewable energy technologies, including in advanced biofuels.
"Despite the absence of mandate, we are urging Member States to continue the negotiations on the iLUC proposal and finalise their 1st reading position before the end of the Lithuanian Presidency," Nielsen added.
The Industry Committee, a co-leading group on the biofuel draft law, will vote on the negotiating mandate next Monday (21 October). But negotiations cannot begin until both committees consent.
If the legislation is delayed until the next term, the new batch of MEPs and new college of commissioners may decide to scrap it.