Americans who fear the hand-wringing and debate over pluses and minuses of biofuels, fear not. The issue is apparently just as contentious across the Pond. And in this case, anti-biofuelers appear to have gained an edge in the argument.

European Parliament's Environment Committee voted Tuesday to put a cap on how much of the continent's fuel supply can come from so-called first-generation biofuels by the end of the decade, according to Brussels-based sustainable transportation advocate Transport & Environment (T&E). That cap was put at six percent of the total fuel supply in 2020. While that's more than the 4.5 percent biofuels accounted for in 2011, a cap is still a cap.

T&E points out that European Union countries spent about 6 billion euros ($6.81 billion) subsidizing biofuels production in 2011. That may have contributed to indirect emissions caused by additional land that needed to be farmed to offset the effect of corn and other food crops being used for fuel production.

Of course, those favoring biofuels can point to the fact that the US exported about $2.1 billion in ethanol last year, creating a tidy surplus. And that surplus would've been more had some governments not imposed tariffs on ethanol imports. Like some Europeans, for instance. Take a look at Transport & Environment's press release below.

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European Parliament votes to phase out first-generation biofuels after 2020

Members of the European Parliament's Environment Committee voted today to limit at 6% the use of land-based biofuels that can count toward the 10% renewable energy target in transport by 2020. They also approved accounting of indirect emissions (known as ILUC) [1] from biofuels under the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) with a review clause to put them in all pieces of legislation after 2020 [2]. This vote will put the brakes on the growing consumption of biofuels that increase greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional diesel and petrol.

Reacting to the vote, T&E's energy manager Nusa Urbancic said: "We welcome MEPs' determination to limit the amount of bad biofuels the EU will blend in its petrol and diesel. Although in some respects weaker than the original proposal from the Commission, this vote send a clear signal that the European Parliament wants cleaner alternative fuels that actually reduce emissions."

Significantly, Parliament widens the scope of the 6% cap to not only cover food-based biofuels, but also energy crops, that is, inedible crops that still compete for land with food crops. This decision correctly identifies land use, not the type of crop, as the key environmental challenge of biofuels. It would mean that Member States could not subsidise or mandate this type of biofuel after 2020.

The Parliament also strengthened sustainability criteria for advanced biofuels, mainly made from municipal waste and residues, putting forward an obligation to comply with the waste hierarchy: that it is better to reuse or recycle waste than to burn it.

EU Member States spent €6 billion in 2011 in support of the biofuels industry [3]. This public support was necessary to sustain the 4.5% market share biofuels had in 2011 – below the 6% freeze voted for today in the Environment Committee.

"Rapporteur Torvalds now needs to stand his ground when negotiating a deal with the Latvian presidency, especially on ILUC factors and the cap. Otherwise, billions in taxpayers' money will continue to be wasted on harmful biofuels that in many cases pollute more than fossil fuels," Nusa Urbancic concluded.

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