After a marathon debate, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last week adopted a regulation that calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels in the state by 10 percent by 2020.
It is the first-ever rule in the country to slash carbon emissions in automotive fuels, and is meant to spur the market for cleaner gasoline alternatives. The regulation has been highly controversial, but CARB brushed off a last-ditch appeal Thursday by ethanol advocates for the plan to be ditched.
Backers of California’s low-carbon fuel standard, or LCFS, hailed the move as historic, saying the initiative should be emulated by the rest of the nation and even other countries. It marks the first attempt by government anywhere in the world to subject gasoline, ethanol and other transportation fuels, as opposed to the cars and trucks they power, to limits on their potential for releasing greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
"The new standard means we can begin to break our century-old dependence on petroleum and provide California with greater energy security," said ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols. "The drive to force the market toward greater use of alternative fuels will be a boon to the state’s economy and public health — it reduces air pollution, creates new jobs and continues California’s leadership in the fight against global warming."
The regulation requires providers, refiners, importers and blenders to ensure that the fuels they provide for the California market meet an average declining standard of ‘carbon intensity’.
California’s plan also takes a sweeping "cradle-to-grave" approach to cutting the carbon footprint of fuels by accounting for direct tailpipe emissions and indirect impacts associated with a fuel’s overall "pathway" from production to combustion.
That means California will now also have to regulate the means of production of the fuels, which is one area that has caused heartburn among ethanol producers. In the case of ethanol, the measure factors in the carbon consequences of plowing up grasslands or clearing forests for large-scale corn or sugar cane cultivation.
Ethanol producers and their supporters argue the regulation would disadvantage them because their business by necessity incurs a higher carbon foot print, and as such will be regulated, while petroleum refiners who import oil and gas from abroad won’t have to worry about that part of the regulation that deals with land-use.
To assuage these fears, Nichols said on Wednesday that CARB would take several measures to ensure corn ethanol can help transportation fuel suppliers reach the low-carbon fuel standard. To that effect, in the press release issued after the plan was adopted on Thursday, CARB said California will provide funding to assist in the early development and deployment of the most promising low-carbon fuels.