Soapbox

Biofuels can be a bigger part of green energy

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks June 15 in Los Angeles about wanting California’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to be a model when world leaders try to negotiate a global agreement to combat climate change.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks June 15 in Los Angeles about wanting California’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to be a model when world leaders try to negotiate a global agreement to combat climate change. The Associated Press

Despite California’s leadership in green energy promotion, our state is a woefully lopsided net importer of clean biofuels.

State lawmakers have a golden opportunity to correct this unfortunate paradox by negotiating a follow-up budget provision that invests some of the state’s cap-and-trade revenues in California-produced biofuels. Without impacting the general fund, such a move would cut air pollution, combat climate change, treat our petroleum addiction, improve public health and create green jobs in California’s economically depressed inland communities.

The governor has set an ambitious target to slash petroleum use by 50 percent in keeping with his goal to reduce carbon emissions. Biofuels are a key component of meeting those goals. They provide the lowest carbon transportation of any fuel, and are the key to reducing emissions from heavy-duty diesel vehicles and equipment.

California already uses 1.4 billion gallons a year of low-carbon ethanol blended into its gasoline, accounting for 60 percent of the savings generated to date under the Low Carbon Fuel Standards program, part of Assembly Bill 32.

Unfortunately, while California is one of the largest consumers of biofuels in the country, only a fraction is produced in the state because our investments in biofuel production simply don’t match our growing commitment to use them. Despite the need for more than 7 billion gallons of low-carbon biofuels annually by 2030 to meet the governor’s targets, California doesn’t offer production incentives to in-state producers. This puts us at a competitive disadvantage to out-of-state producers.

There is no reason for this. We already possess the resources to generate green energy from dairy operations, organic waste, landfills and other organic waste streams. Increasing in-state production through a California Biofuels Initiative would tackle these problems head-on. California could easily and sustainably increase biofuel production by more than 900 million gallons annually by 2019 – half of current demand.

That investment would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 6 million tons annually and set the stage for even greater reductions. This initiative would also result in direct, long-term economic benefits, including creating more than 25,000 jobs in inland counties, and stimulating an estimated $11.5 billion in economic development.

A biofuels initiative will help improve the nation’s worst air quality plaguing the Central Valley, South Coast Air District and Inland Empire, where residents suffer higher rates of asthma and other preventable diseases.

Using biogas in place of diesel in heavy-duty vehicles can cut smog and particulate emissions by as much as 90 percent.

Our California Biofuels Coalition, representing the biogas, biodiesel and ethanol industries, believes a modest $200 million investment – less than 10 percent of the $2.3 billion available from cap and trade – would accomplish all of this and more. It’s also cost-effective; the initial investment would more than pay for itself three times over through fuel taxes and local and state tax revenues.

Investing in biofuels is a quintessentially California solution. It’s a single policy that can tackle climate change, while improving economic opportunity and quality of life in communities still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. California needs to do more than talk about green energy. It needs to produce it.

Johannes Escudero is executive director of the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas. Tim Cremins is director of the California-Nevada Conference of Operating Engineers. Jose Mejia is director of the State Council of Laborers.

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