Tips so that biofuel plants don’t become weeds
“But when you have regulatory uncertainty, with 50 states each doing their own thing, those are barriers to the expansion of the industry,” Endres said. “The big developers, who are responsible players in the industry, would be in favor of this regulation as long as it’s science based and legitimate. They don’t want individuals to be able to go to their local weed commissioner and complain ‘my neighbor is going to plant Miscanthus and I heard on the Internet somewhere that it’s invasive,’ and it gets added to the state’s noxious weed list. That’s not a good way to do business and to develop a new industrial model.”
Endres said that developers also do not want to spend a lot of money to commercialize a biofuels plant that’s going to cause trouble later on—they want to do that analysis beforehand and decide which plants to invest more money into.
Quinn said, “We want to encourage developers to commercialize only those species that will carry a low risk of invasion. During their research and development phase, they would petition the invasive species council to do the weed risk assessment on the plant that they’re proposing. If it’s not high risk, then they can do field trials to rule out invasiveness. This due diligence not only protects the environment but also protects developers from potential losses due to findings of negligence down the road. Our plan gives them an opportunity to develop something safe early in the process,” she said.
Quinn said that biofuels crops such as Miscanthus would be subject to the list. The current cultivars that are being sold for production are sterile, but new hybrids that are being developed are fertile, so Quinn said there could be the potential for confusion.
“We want to shift developers’ incentives to make sure that they’re doing an assessment of the invasiveness before they go too far down the development stage and we have another kudzu on our hands,” Endres said.
Quinn, who is a postdoctoral research associate at the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois, conducted the research along with James McCubbins and A. Bryan Endres, both U of I attorneys who specialize in agricultural law, and Jacob Barney, a weed scientist at Virginia Tech.
“Navigating the ‘Noxious’ and ‘Invasive’ Regulatory Landscape: Suggestions for Improved
Regulation” was published in the February issue of Biosciences. The research was funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute.