California works to reduce GHG emissions

By Erin Voegele | April 15, 2009
California is proceeding with plans to implement a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) that would seek to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the state's transportation fuels by 10 percent by 2020.

In March, the California Air Resources Board released its proposed regulation to implement the LCFS, which would diversify the variety of fuels available within the state, boost markets for alternative fuels, and require fuel providers, refiners, importers and blenders to ensure that fuel they provide the California market meet an average declining standard of carbon intensity, determined by examining the fuel pathway, which is defined as the sum of the GHG emissions associated with the production, transportation and consumption of the fuel. According to CARB, some fuel pathways also result in the release of additional GHG emissions through the conversion of forestlands and other carbon-containing habitats, known as indirect land use change.

CARB's inclusion of indirect land use change to determine the carbon-intensity of fuel is challenged by many scientists and biofuels industry leaders. In March a group of scientists submitted a letter to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger questioning CARB's intention to include indirect land use impacts for biofuels under the state's LCFS. According to the letter, this field of science is in its nascent stage and is controversial in much of the scientific community. The scientists believe that the inclusion of indirect land use change is highly premature, that the science is far too limited and uncertain for regulatory enforcement, and that indirect effects are often misunderstood and should not be enforced selectively.

While the proposed LCFS does include indirect land use impacts for some biofuels including ethanol land use estimates for biodiesel are not currently listed. According to documentation published by CARB, this is due to the fact that estimates for biodiesel are very preliminary at this time. In the proposed regulation's staff report, CARB states that staff members are concerned that their estimate of land use allocation for biodiesel coproducts may significantly underestimate the land use impacts of soy-based biodiesel. Once the board has a better estimate of these land use impacts, the value will be published for public comment and proposed for certification.

A preliminary fuel pathway document published by CARB in February regarding biodiesel manufactured from Midwest soybeans estimates land use change to be 42.0 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule of fuel (gCO2e/MJ). In comparison, CARB's proposed regulation to implement the LCFS assigns corn-based ethanol a land use value of 30 gCO2e/MJ.

California is also seeking to set standards to control GHG emissions from motor vehicles. Before this policy can be implemented, U.S. EPA must approve a waiver request allowing the state to adopt these limitations on tailpipe GHG emissions. The waiver request, originally submitted to EPA in Dec. 2005, was denied in March 2008 by then EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. In January, California asked current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to reconsider the waiver. President Barack Obama has also requested that EPA reconsider the denial. In February the agency announced it would reconsider California's waiver request. A hearing on the matter was held March 5, and written comments from the public are being accepted until April 6. An EPA spokeswomen said that the agency has no estimate of when a final decision of the waiver request will be issued.
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