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Keep Oil’s Dirty Fingerprints off California’s Clean Fuels Standard

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The Keystone Pipeline is in the news again, as the oil industry and its allies in Congress take another shot at snaking dirty tar sands crude across the High Plains and deep into the heart of Texas.  The pipeline may end in Texas, but the oil industry’s greasy fingerprints have a way of getting all over everything, from DC budget battles to California Climate policy.

Hey Texas, Don’t mess with California!

Last year it was the Texas oil companies and the Koch brothers trying to suspend California’s climate policy, and this week the oil industry is trying to weaken a an innovative state policy designed to reduce pollution from transportation fuel.  Called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the California policy simply holds all fuel providers accountable for the pollution caused by producing and using their fuels, and commits the state to scaling this pollution back by 10% by 2020.

For the last several years, I have been proud to join a large team of experts helping California get the complex accounting behind this policy right.  One important focus has been the indirect land use emissions caused by expanding production of biofuels, a topic of worldwide concern that a long and distinguished list of scientists and economists have weighed in on in California, in DC, and recently in the European Union (EU).  But biofuels emissions are just part of the story, and by far the largest culprit for vehicle emissions is the oil that makes up the vast majority of our transportation fuel.

Important decision expected this week

This Friday, December 16, the California Air Resources Board will confront this challenge as they make some important decisions about the future of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.  In addition to reaffirming the policy, they have proposed strengthening it by making oil companies accountable for the full upstream emissions of the different crude oils they bring into the California market, making sure, for example, that tar sands oil doesn’t get a free ride.

Of course the oil industry has its own ideas about how we should – or shouldn’t – account for pollution from fuels, and is greasing the skids with a lobbying campaign that has already added up to more than $5 million in spending this year.  Seems to me a lump of coal is the official Christmas gift of the fossil fuel folks.  Some people have no respect for tradition.

The wide world of fuels policy

This success of this state’s policy has implications that go far beyond California’s borders.  We have always counted on California to lead the way on transportation policy for other U.S. states, but the way California approaches their policy also has implications for the EU.  Just two weeks ago, the Chairman of the Air Resources Board sent a letter to the EU, to correct some misinformation on California’s approach to dirty fuels like tar sands.

Cleaning up our dirty transportation fuels is an important part of the global challenge of addressing our changing climate. It will take smart and committed leadership and a public that demands something better than oil to clean up the mess created by the fossil fuel industries.

This is an important week for clean fuels, in California and around the world, and I hope you will join me in keeping an eye on the issue, and holding our leaders accountable.

Image:  Flickr/blvesboy

Posted in: Fossil Fuels, Global Warming

About the author: Jeremy Martin is a scientist with expertise in the technology, lifecycle accounting, and water use of biofuels. He is working on policies to help commercialize the next generation of clean biofuels (made from waste and biomass rather than food) that can cut U.S. oil dependence and curb global warming. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry with a minor in chemical engineering. See Jeremy's full bio.

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