Invasive plant sparks biofuel debate

Oct. 31, 2012 at 7:28 PM
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HOUSTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- A plant being eyed as a renewable fuel source has a dark side, choking native plants, clogging rivers and streams and draining wetlands, U.S. scientists say.

Giant reed, also known as arundo donax, is a fast-growing hardy grass species found throughout Texas and the southern United States the U.S. government is considering as a renewable fuel source.

Its often unruly behavior has some scientists and environmentalists arguing the ecological and economic risks are greater than the possible benefit.

They say they want the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a nearly finalized rule that would encourage farmers to grow giant reed and other invasive grasses for biofuels production.

"We think the idea of cleaner fuels is great," Janice Bezanson, executive director of the advocacy group Texas Conservation Alliance, told the Houston Chronicle, "but we do not want to create a monster."

The use of invasive species as biofuel feed stocks may bring unintended consequences, environmentalists warn.

Giant reed, native to India and introduced into the United States in the 1800s for erosion control, could escape from any areas where it's planted and overrun nearby farms and natural lands, they said.

"Arundo was designed to survive," said Wilfred Korth, a park ranger near Victoria and member of the Texas Aquatic Plant Management Society. "Every bit will create a new plant, and it chokes everything else out."

A group of more than 200 biologists and botanists has urged the Obama administration to reconsider using invasive species in the production of biofuels.

"It is much cheaper and easier to take the steps to prevent an invasive escape than it is to deal with it after it has occurred," the scientists wrote in a letter to federal officials.

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