Asserting that they are taking the state’s climate fight up a notch, members of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last week adopted amendments to the state’s low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) that could enhance the role of E85 and the use of ethanol in high-octane, low-carbon (HOLC) transportation fuels.
Among the principle aims of the amendments is the requirement of a 20 percent cut in the carbon intensity (CI) of gasoline and diesel by 2030, a goal that can be attained with the help of more efficient, high-octane fuels achieved through biofuel blending that can reduce emissions.
CI is the amount of carbon by weight emitted per unit of energy consumed, usually a British thermal unit (Btu).
CARB says the amended LCFS is “designed to make the program a more versatile, comprehensive tool in the fight against climate change,” while bringing the standard in compliance with California’s recently adopted GHG emissions-reduction target goal of 40 percent below 1990 levels for both power and transportation fuels combined by 2030.
Nearer-term requirements of the LCFS have been eased slightly, moving the state from what was a 10-percent reduction of emissions from gasoline and diesel below-2010 levels by 2020, down to 7.5 percent; a move deemed necessary after legal action from the ethanol industry forced CARB to suspend compliance in order to make administrative changes ordered by the court.
The required reductions then increase annually, moving to an 8.75-percent drop by 2021; 10 percent by 2022; 11.25 percent by 2023; 12.5 percent by 2024; 13.75 percent by 2025; 15 percent by 2026; 16.25 percent by 2027; 17.5 percent by 2028; 18.75 percent by 2029; and 20 percent by 2030.
The move to push the state’s transportation sector toward a reduced emission future underscores the need for EPA, which is currently mulling new national fuel economy standards, to provide a viable pathway to a high-octane, low-carbon, lower-cost fuel for next-generation cars and light trucks. Once given final approval, the rule will acknowledge what EPA has known for years: increasing the octane level in the nation’s market fuel will enable use of more efficient, lower polluting engines.
That octane can be supplied, starting now, by increasing use of available ethanol. The U.S. fuel distribution infrastructure is capable of keeping up with demand for the new fuel. To make the change, EPA must fairly assess the ability of ethanol to enable increased octane in market fuel, at least cost, to the advantage of environmental and economic considerations.
While the LCFS revisions seem to boost cleaner biofuels, Gov. Jerry Brown passed on another, more immediate opportunity to reduce state GHG emissions when he vetoed legislation that would have required CARB to recommend non-fiscal policies to maximize the use of E85 by the 1.5 million flex-fuel vehicles driven in the state. In his veto message to the legislature, he said state agencies must focus on emerging markets for the cleanest vehicles and fuels possible, including electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen-powered cars and trucks, if the state is going to meet his office’s goal of achieving complete carbon neutrality in California by 2045. The veto message would suggest the governor has lost sight of the fact that cars and trucks will continue to run on internal combustion engines for decades to come, and that the bill he vetoed would provide a more immediate and effective means of reducing carbon emissions from those fuel-burning vehicles.
A distraction emerging in the ongoing debate over the role transportation fuels can play in a new reduced emissions scheme is the resurfacing of a researcher with the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, who for at least the third time since 2015, is claiming that the emissions generated by biofuels, when calculating those emanating from the production of ethanol’s corn feedstock, are more than the carbon emissions spewed out by gasoline.
The premise from long-time ethanol and Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) critic John DeCicco, whose work, the Renewable Fuel Association says, is paid for in part by the American Petroleum Institute, was readily dismissed by ethanol advocates when it was first unveiled three years ago. DeCicco brought up the dubious claim again before a 2016 congressional hearing, only to be rebuffed again by biofuel advocates, who pointed out that his findings are not, nor have they ever been, supported by EPA, DOE, USDA and CARB.
And while we are looking at the opportunities and challenges coming out the debate in California over proceeding with the more efficient, cleaner biofuels, it should be noted that the fuel-economy rule under consideration by the Trump administration would also eliminate a waiver granted under the Clean Air Act that gives California the ability to set its own vehicle emission standards. Any effort by the White House to strong arm oversight authority away from California will face a severe legal challenge from not only officials in Sacramento, but also from the leaders of a dozen other states and Washington, D.C., which all follow California’s lead enforcing their own, respective standards.
Solutions from the Land calls on its clean energy stakeholders to urge policy makers to stay focused on the efficiency and air quality benefits that can come from mid- and high-level ethanol blends. Don’t allow the discussion to be diverted by bogus sideshows like that proffered by DeCicco, and remind policy leaders that appropriate fuel-economy standards, working in tandem with programs like the RFS, can serve our transportation sector well in meeting increasingly vigorous environment and efficiency targets.