California should stay on track with standard on cleaner fuels

Engineer Jared Farnsworth shows the hydrogen fuel cell in Toyota’s FCHV.
Engineer Jared Farnsworth shows the hydrogen fuel cell in Toyota’s FCHV. Bay Area News Group

Legal challenges, political battles and scare tactics have not derailed California’s low-carbon fuel standard. As the state Air Resources Board gets ready to re-adopt the standard, we have one simple message: Keep going.

California’s commitment to developing cleaner fuels is paying dividends for companies, the state and the nation. The businesses we represent are eager to cement those gains. They hope California’s leaders will go even further, setting higher greenhouse gas reduction targets for fuels and extending the low-carbon fuel standard beyond its current 2020 expiration date.

Tuesday, low-carbon fuel producers are gathering in Sacramento to talk to lawmakers and policy experts about the enormous opportunities presented by cleaner fuels, such as biofuels, natural gas, hydrogen and electricity. Decisions made in Sacramento will determine how many of the benefits from a clean-energy future stay here in California.

Sure, it’s easy for some to question this push now, when gas prices are lower than they’ve been in years. When gas is cheap, why look for alternative fuels? But the same countries that have boosted production and cut prices and control the worldwide oil market could change their minds tomorrow, leaving the rest of us holding the bag.

Low-carbon fuels, on the other hand, represent a growing market that is creating American jobs and promoting energy independence, while also tackling air pollution and climate change. Expanding clean advanced fuels is absolutely essential to meeting Gov. Jerry Brown’s target of cutting petroleum use by cars and trucks in half by 2030.

These days, advanced biofuels are being made from everything from used grease to wood to sugar to farm waste. Drop-in fuels – no engine modifications required – are powering planes, trains and cars; off-road vehicles at ports, warehouses and construction sites; and U.S. military vehicles, ships and aircraft.

Electricity is another low-carbon fuel source, and electric vehicles are selling faster than now-ubiquitous hybrids did at the same point in their product cycle. Electric vehicles could replace as much as 3.3 billion gallons of petroleum a year by 2030 in California alone.

Already, the fuel standard is doing what it’s supposed to do. In the first two years it was in effect, low-carbon fuels displaced more than 2 billion gallons of gasoline, according to the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. Burning those fuels instead of petroleum products avoided 2.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions – the equivalent of taking 500,000 vehicles off the road.

Some of the biggest users of gas and diesel in California – companies with big fleets, including UPS and Frito-Lay – are among the most persistent voices in support of standards that encourage fuel diversification and policies that spur the development of low-carbon alternatives to petroleum. They like the idea of delivering for their customers in ways that are in line with their corporate goals.

In an era of low oil prices, which may or may not last long, standards are particularly important to clean-fuel developers. If properly implemented, the federal renewable fuel standard and California’s low-carbon fuel standard provide long-term certainty about the market. This gives big corporations and small entrepreneurs alike the confidence they need to direct resources into developing new technologies, and signals that California is an especially good place to set up shop.

We hope to see the low-carbon fuel standard grow even stronger, spurring growth and creating jobs.

John Boesel is president and CEO of CALSTART, an organization of more than 140 businesses and agencies that support a clean transportation industry. Michael McAdams is president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, which represents more than 40 biofuel and feedstock companies.