Is the Environmental Protection Agency deliberately trying to “stack the deck” against ethanol and other biofuels?

That’s the question being raised after the agency released the peer review it had said it would conduct on the computer models used to calculate the impact of indirect land use change in its Renewable Fuel Standard-2 proposed rule.

“We are pleased that this independent peer review has affirmed EPA’s approach (to greenhouse gas emission rulemaking) to be fair, credible and grounded in science,” an EPA spokesman said in response to a query from reporters following the peer review’s release.

But the Renewable Fuels Association, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn. and other groups such as the National Corn Growers Association blasted the 135-page document, charging EPA “stacked the deck” by naming a group of anti-ethanol advocates to the scientific panel that was asked to review the indirect land use change models.

“By adding lawyers and advocates to a scientific review panel, EPA bureaucrats have made a mockery of the administration’s commitment to sound science,” said RFA President Bob Dinneen.

“These reviews absolutely cannot be viewed as objective or unbiased. Many of these reviewers have repeatedly and openly demonstrated unabashed and politically-motivated biases against biofuels in the past, which immediately casts a long shadow of doubt over the legitimacy of EPA’s peer review process.”

Peterson issued a statement saying the release of the peer review “reaffirmed many of the concerns I have about the EPA’s proposed rule and rulemaking process for the Renewable Fuels Standard. The panel expressed concern about using these incomplete and unreliable models to measure indirect land use changes.”

The congressman and the NCGA also questioned why USDA, which may have more experts on agricultural land use than any other institution in the world, was not asked to participate on the scientific review panel.

“We are dismayed by EPA’s complete disregard for an approach that is fair and balanced,” said Corn Grower President Bob Dickey. “We are also puzzled as to why USDA, which has extensive knowledge related to this issue, was in no way included in the peer review process.”

Dinneen said renewable fuel advocates also questioned the validity of the computer models used to generate EPA’s indirect land use change conclusions.

“How can a peer reviewer fairly validate a method that simply cannot be reproduced by anyone?” Dinneen asked. “Did any of these reviewers attempt to run these models to corroborate EPA’s results? I doubt it. If they had, they would have quickly discovered that no one outside of the small group of modelers who performed the analysis for EPA can actually run the model in the same way that EPA did.

“The release of these reviews doesn’t change the fact that EPA’s indirect land use change analysis is ultimately not reproducible by stakeholders and therefore inappropriate for this use.”

Dinneen said the inclusion of activists like Tim Searchinger, an environmental attorney, and Joseph Fargione, co-author of an anti-ethanol article in the February 2008 edition of Science, was also troubling. The latter has been largely discredited in the scientific community, he said.

“Much of the list of ‘peer’ reviewers reads like a Who’s Who of ethanol and agriculture detractors,” says Dinneen. “Beyond Searchinger and Fargione, several other vocal ethanol opponents with clear conflicts of interest were asked to “peer review” the EPA work.”

Among those are two researchers who were co-authors on Searchinger’s 2008 Science paper on ILUC; staffers from two environmental activist groups; and several academics who have served as paid consultants to environmental groups with anti-ethanol and anti-agriculture agendas.

“NCGA was optimistic earlier this year when the Administration vowed to base future policy on sound science and we were hopeful that would be the case during this analysis,” said Dickey. Unfortunately, the information published today is to the contrary. We call upon the EPA to modify its approach to reflect the commitment of President Obama to adhere to policies based on sound science and a transparent process.”

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