California Lawmakers Offer Clean Energy Strategy that Looks to the Future

The California legislature has sent to Gov. Jerry Brown a measure that will serve as a significant driver of the move toward cleaner transportation fuels, including biofuels. It’s a policy step that could likely serve as a template for policy makers in other states seeking to reach a clean energy future.

Senate Bill 32 sets a hugely aggressive target for reducing climate-altering emissions. The state is already looking at dropping emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. SB32 would hike that target to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Among the tools available to meet that ambitious goal is a state Renewable Energy Portfolio adopted by policy makers last year that requires retail sellers and publicly owned utilities to obtain at least 50 percent of their electricity from eligible renewable energy resources by 2030. It’s a commitment that Brown said calls for “groundbreaking steps to increase the efficiency of our cars, buildings and appliances, and provide ever more renewable energy.”

Another tool is the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), a regulatory requirement that calls for a 10-percent drop in the carbon intensity of the state’s transportation fuels by 2030. Media reports out of California indicate the LCFS weathered plans by some in the legislature to weaken or eliminate the LCFS in exchange for maintaining a cap-and-trade program that would be reinforced by SB32. But not only did the LCFS survive, the California Air Resources Board is expected to increase the standard’s carbon intensity reductions beyond 2030 to as much as 30 percent.

Of course, critical to meeting the LCFS targets will continue to be the role of biofuels, which reduce emissions anywhere from 35 to 85 percent when compared to gasoline or diesel, depending upon the type of alternative fuel used.

While some other states have recently set high RPS targets (Hawaii, New York and Massachusetts, among them), California has long been recognized as the most aggressive in its pursuit of policies – including the LCFS ‑ that sustain and boost clean energy as a means of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and help stem the changes in climate that scientists say are resulting in increasing atmospheric and ocean temperatures, volatile weather patterns (including extensive drought and flooding) and disruptions in crop and livestock production.

California, which readily utilizes policy in a way leaders around world are likely to emulate to address changing climate conditions in their own countries and regions, values the role of biofuels in its strategy aimed at achieving its climate change goals. And by extension, it underscores the part that biofuels can play on a national level as the Obama administration mounts its own efforts to address climate change.

Unfortunately, the White House is still falling short in its purported commitment to biofuels, continuing to propose biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that fall short of the levels set when the RFS was reauthorized and expanded nine years ago.

And news this week from USDA on projections for farm income this year – it’s expected to fall to its lowest level since 2009 – give even greater urgency to the need to fully implement the RFS biofuel blending requirements set in the 2007 law.

The drop in income is driven in large part by a decline in prices for a wide range of commodities, including biofuel feedstocks corn and soybeans, which are both expected to set production records this year. Reducing the requirements for biofuels and creating a subsequent drop in the domestic market for corn and soybeans not only impacts federal efforts to address climate change, it also hurts farmers.

As Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association, recently told The Wall Street Journal, “Rural America needs help.” Low commodity prices, he said, “will result in fewer family farms, fewer jobs and economic hardship.”

Policy makers everywhere serious about efforts to reverse rising temperatures and the corresponding damages that come with climate change should look to the future and – like California lawmakers and regulators – implement the strategies that deal with the challenges to come. That means using all of the policy tools available to them, including those that boost the production and use of biofuels.

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