Scientists or Lobbyists: Who Do You Trust to Act For The Rainforest?


Written by Ashley Schaeffer

In what has been called the biggest climate decision of the year for the Obama Administration, the Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil industries are flexing their lobbying muscle to overturn a crucial, science-based decision by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In January of this year, the EPA issued an initial finding that biofuels made from palm oil do not qualify for subsidies under the agency’s 2007 renewable fuels mandate. While it was found to have lower life-cycle emissions than conventional gasoline and diesel, palm oil came up short of the 20 percent reduction in total emissions required for inclusion in the new biofuel blends.

While the public comment period regarding its decision is now officially closed, the EPA remains under serious and mounting pressure to reverse its findings from high-powered lobbying groups hired by the Indonesian, Malaysian, and Chinese palm oil industries. These shadowy foreign interests are joined by the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other right-wing organizations fundamentally opposed to the Renewable Fuels Standard.

Among the most disturbing developments in this lobby assault is the fact that these high-paid industry lobbyists are leveraging their political influence to place their clients’ profit-driven agenda over the conclusions of science. For example, many of the comments submitted to the EPA came from the palm oil industry itself — including palm oil giants Cargill and Wilmar, which claim that the EPA’s estimates of palm oil-related emissions are seriously exaggerated.

Scientists, however, assert that even the EPA’s proposed findings are overly conservative and that palm oil fuels are likely no better for the climate than conventional fuels at all. The New York Times Green Blog reported on a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that used socioeconomic surveys, high-resolution satellite imagery and carbon mapping to plot past and future patterns of land conversion for a representative region in Indonesia. The study found that half of all palm oil in the study area is being grown on extremely carbon-rich peatlands, a number that sharply contrasts with the EPA’s estimate of only 13 percent for all of Indonesia.

As the NYT blog states: “Indonesia ranks right behind the United States and China in the lineup of the world’s top 10 greenhouse gas emitters. It’s not because of smokestacks or freeways, but massive deforestation starting in the 1990s — driven in large part by the expansion of plantations for palm oil, an edible vegetable oil used in cookies, crackers, soap and European diesel fuel.”

The EPA’s decision is incredibly important because it will influence how governments around the world think about palm oil, particularly in Europe. As Ezra Klein explains in the Washington Post, the biggest market for palm oil-based fuels is still the European Union, which has a law requiring 10 percent of all transportation fuel to come from renewable sources by 2020. The problem with this rule is that the European Union never considered the indirect deforestation effects from biofuels. The science on this only really emerged in 2008 or so, after the E.U. law was crafted.

As for the US, the EPA’s decision could also determine the extent to which the United States becomes a major palm oil buyer. According to trade data, consumption of palm oil in the United States is growing at a much faster rate than anywhere else in the world, so it makes sense that industry reps from Indonesia and Malaysia are concerned about protecting palm oil’s reputation here. So concerned, in fact, that the Malaysian Prime Minister’s wife met with the Girl Scouts CEO last week. But what isn’t so clear in my mind is how an industry that is accused of gross environmental and social abuses can justify hiring the most expensive lobby group to paint palm oil green without looking desperate.

As my colleague Laurel Sutherlin said in a press conference: “It is a disturbing development to see a politically motivated group like ALEC join forces with the shadowy palm oil lobby from Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as with huge agribusiness companies Cargill and Wilmar, to pressure the EPA to overturn what is supposed to be a science-based decision made in the best interests of the American people. The question the EPA is tasked with answering is whether biofuels made with palm oil meet our nation’s greenhouse gas requirements as a renewable fuel. The stark reality of the impacts of palm oil plantation expansion in Southeast Asia, where nearly 90% of the world’s palm oil comes from, makes it clear that it does not.”

This post was republished from Rainforest Action Network with permission.


Related Stories:

Obama’s Biggest Climate Decision of the Year May Be…Palm Oil?

Orangutan Caught in Snare Has Surgery

Setting the Record Straight: Cargill and Tripa Forest Controversy


Photo from Rainforest Action Network via flickr


Brett Byers
Brett Byers3 years ago

Save acres of rainforest for just a few dollars:

Sara P.
Sara P4 years ago

I don't trust in neither!!!!

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Anne W.
Anne Williams5 years ago

How horrendous a vision of hell from Indonesia. I cannot bear to observe, Wonder what the British and UN who handed over Borneo to the military dictator despite Dutch protests now think?. They did the same in Sarawak now doing the same under their Malaysian Env. Minster doing the same in its forests. He said he found the area too rainy and wanted to build a Golf Course there for his pleasure!! Super Greed and Super consumerism gaining speed.
The so called progress of China and India on this bandwagon does not bear thinking about.I boycott tropical timber products. Wish could do the same for oil palm cosmetics.

Emily Drew
Emily Drew5 years ago

Say NO to the palm oil industry! I don't really trust anyone to tell the truth.

federico bortoletto
federico b5 years ago

Sono entrambi FALSI.

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege5 years ago

I don't trust any of them but lobbyists are the worst.

Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

I don't trust neither.

Don H.
Don H5 years ago


You expect us to believe that corporations aren't clear cutting irreplaceable rain forest and re-planting in industrial mono-cultures. LMAO!

You expect us to believe that wild Orangutang populations are increasing. That is one of the most preposterous things I have ever heard a propagandist claim on Care2. And I have heard some good ones.

See, you are the typical corporate defender - false information peddler. You claim others are "making wild allegations". But, it truth, that is exactly what you are doing. And you are actually defending the "bad guys".

The environment is under assault. On every front mineral and resource extractors are at work damaging the environment in their quest for incredibly high profits at the expense of both indigenous human populations and endangered wildlife. We all know this. Nothing you can say will make us think otherwise.

Linda Everett
Linda Everett5 years ago

Oh yeah Don H? Do respond to my contention that RAN is an organization that has a history of making wild and unsubstantiated allegations, only to have to quietly remove them from their website when events subsequently prove them to be just that - wild and unsubstantiated!

Tell me too that scientists do not pander to and sell out to industries who fund them?

Unless you can show that the Wikileaks release of emails from UK weather scientists showing them busily writing to each other to fudge weather data to reach predetermined findings is concocted, this will help establish as to who is better informed?