Total says French palm oil curb threatens biofuel facility

PARIS, (Reuters) - French energy group Total said a move by lawmakers to exclude palm oil from raw materials approved for use in biofuel would put at risk its La Mede facility in southern France.

French lawmakers last month voted to remove palm oil from the country’s biofuel scheme as of 2020, following longstanding controversy about the environmental impact of the crop that is mainly produced in Asia.

Total last year won the approval of the government to use palm oil to supply its former crude oil refinery at La Mede, which it is converting into a biofuel production site.

The company pledged that palm oil would account for less than half of raw material used, with French rapeseed crops and recycled oil also being used, but the plans caused an uproar among environmental activists and farmers.

“I hope lawmakers, who voted this amendment during the night at the end of December without realizing the consequences, will revert to a more reasonable position,” Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne told French daily Le Figaro.

“This potentially casts doubt on the viability of the production line, the overall profitability of the site and the maintaining of jobs in a factory where Total has invested 275 million euros ($316 million),” he said in an interview published on Friday.

Pouyanne said criticism of deforestation caused by palm oil plantations was excessive given that it took up less land than other oilseed crops, and that he supported the use of palm oil certified as sustainable.

A debate in Europe over the environmental impact of palm oil has caused tensions with top producers Malaysia and Indonesia.

A Malaysian minister said this week that the country’s relations with Europe will be affected restrictions on the use of palm oil in biofuels and that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad would write to French President Emmanuel Macron on the issue. ($1 = 0.8712 euros) (Reporting by Gus Trompiz Editing by Geert De Clercq)

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