Low-Carbon Fuels in Your Future

After years of study and a day of marathon testimony in Sacramento, state regulators have adopted the world’s first low-carbon standard (LCFS) for transportation fuels. Only one member of the California Air Resources Board, John Telles, voted against adoption.

During nearly six hours of testimony by almost 100 speakers, businesses lined up both for and against the new rules. As Marjorie Sun reported for us this week, some claimed that calculations for the carbon footprints of different fuels–especially ethanol–were not even-handed. Speaker after speaker assailed the LCFS as being the product of “incomplete analysis” or just bad math (public testimony begins about an hour into the webcast).

But Daniel Sperling, a UC Davis professor and member of the Air Board, calls it “government at its best.”

“There’s been a huge amount of effort,” he said, ” in working with the oil companies, working with the electricity companies, working with the environmental community, working with the biofuels companies, to try to get this really done right.”

Though numerous speakers challenged the view that it was done right, both Sperling and Air Board head Mary Nichols seemed to leave the door open to additional tweakage of the regulations. “In the end, it’s a science-based policy,” said Sterling. “There are a lot of pieces of this that we’re not certain exactly the best way to do it but we’ve got the framework of a really outstanding policy and an important policy. And we’ve made the commitment to work with all the different stakeholders in refining it, to make sure that it really works best.”

Small-business and environmental justice groups locked arms to decry the cost of the new rules. Some cited a report from Sacramento-based Sierra Research estimating $3.8 billion in increased fuel costs by 2020, if the LCFS takes effect.

An “expert working group” is due to report back on January 1, with possible suggestions for fine-tuning the plan.

Board member Ron Roberts summed up the proposed regulation by paraphrasing Winston Churchill: “It may not be the end or even the beginning of the end, but it’s the end of the start,” said Roberts (falling somewhat short of Churchillian eloquence but point taken).

The new rules are designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation 10 percent by 20-20.  Sperling is now headed to Capitol Hill, to testify before Congress on national legislation. California’s process is being closely watched in Washington, where pending federal carbon legislation is widely seen to be modeled after California’s plan.