Wednesday, April 22, 2009

CARB Takes Up Low Carbon Fuel Tomorrow

CARB takes up the low carbon fuel standard tomorrow and stakeholders are circling the wagons.

The Mercury News ran a pretty good summary piece yesterday that recaps the highlights and lowlights of the proposed measure.

One of the primary sticking points remains the evaluation and assessment of the cumulative carbon footprint of a given fuel (i.e., the carbon impact from production to delivery to use of the fuel itself). As noted in an earlier post, the ethanol community is fit to be tied over this, and the Merc notes that:

"The Air Resources Board is not just targeting the emissions of the fuel once it is burned in a vehicle. It also wants to account for all carbon emissions related to the production of the fuel.
For example, refineries could choose to stop buying a heavy crude oil extracted from Canadian oil sands, which takes more energy to convert into gasoline. But accounting for emissions during the entire production cycle of a fuel also would discourage certain fuels from being used in California.

Corn-based ethanol, for example, burns cleanly in a car engine. But making it can take a heavy toll on the environment: Massive tracts of land must be cleared, which requires fuel-powered tractors, then coal- or natural gas-fired plants convert the corn into fuel and petroleum is used to transport the end product to distant markets.

The air board also wants to hold ethanol producers accountable for actions taken in other countries. "

In addition to ethanol, petroleum interests oppose the LCFS as well. The Merc points out that:

"More than 100 scientists—including those from the National Academy of Engineering, Sandia National Laboratories and a host of universities—petitioned the California Air Resources Board to rethink its position.

They said regulators are acting prematurely because scientists remain divided over how best to calculate carbon emissions tied to biofuels. They also criticized the board for penalizing biofuels by not applying the same standard to oil and natural gas production, although the air board does factor in the emissions tied to drilling, transporting and refining oil and gas. "

This promises to be a regulatory melee, with special interests, regulators, and scientists (some legitimately independent... some not so much) trading body blows. While you can decide for yourself if the LCFS is great policy, it certainly will be great political theater.