SACRAMENTO -- California air regulators approved the world's first plan yesterday for reducing carbon emissions from transportation fuels after making concessions aimed at placating the biofuels industry and expressing concerns about the rule's impact on the state's battered economy.
The Air Resources Board's 9-1 decision is aimed at achieving a 10 percent reduction in motor vehicles' emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and spurring commercial development of low-carbon fuels like hydrogen and cellulosic ethanol.
"California's first-in-the-world Low Carbon Fuel Standard will not only reduce global warming pollution – it will reward innovation, expand consumer choice and encourage the private investment we need to transform our energy infrastructure," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said in a statement. "Embraced already by 16 states and with support from President Obama and members of Congress for a national standard, we are on the path toward energy security and a low carbon future."
Schwarzenegger began the move toward low-carbon fuels with an executive order in 2007. The fuel standard is part of California's push to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, as mandated by the state's landmark 2006 climate law, A.B. 32.
Thirteen Northeast states are working toward their own low-carbon fuel standard, with a goal of having their governors sign a memorandum of understanding by the end of the year. In Washington, Congress is debating a sweeping House energy and climate proposal that includes a low-carbon fuel standard.
The California standard is hinged on a scientific analysis of fuels' lifecycle emissions – pollution generated from a fuel's production through its combustion. The rule calls for fuel blenders, refiners and importers to achieve emission reductions of 10 percent for their entire fuel mix by 2020 and allows them to buy credits from producers of low-carbon fuels.
For biofuels, the lifecycle emissions score also includes indirect pollution from the conversion of forests to farms for cultivation of corn and other fuel-feedstock crops. The provision that outlines the calculation of these "indirect land-use changes" has been the bane of ethanol producers, which maintain the law is singling them out.
The final regulation contains several procedural concessions to the biofuels industry. The most significant change moved a review of a measurement of indirect land-use effects up a year, to 2011 from 2012. Other changes from the proposed rule include creating a list of biofuel feedstocks with no or low land-use effects, as well as working with U.S. EPA and the European Commission to synchronize land-use values and modeling.
Before approving the rule, ARB members echoed concerns expressed by industry, environmental and regulatory groups. Faced with the ethanol lobby's fierce opposition to the rule's land-use provision, some board members questioned the proposal's omission of indirect effects of fuels other than biofuels.
"The polarization gives me anxiety," board member Sandra Berg said. And board member Ron Roberts asked why the ARB staff failed to mandate lifecycle scores for petroleum products. Staff members said extraction of petroleum did not significantly contribute to indirect land-use changes.