The California Air Resources Board voted to accept a proposed Low Carbon Fuel Standard during a board meeting Thursday in Sacramento. The biofuels industry, in particular those involved in corn-based ethanol, has expressed concern about the proposal, which uses indirect land use models to score greenhouse gas emissions in a way that are biased against ethanol.
Many groups and experts from across the country have questioned the science being used to make those determinations and say incomplete and misguided research being used in the proposal will work against the U.S. government's goal of achieving energy independence through development of renewable fuels, particularly against Midwestern corn-based ethanol.
General Wesley Clark, co-chairman of biofuels group Growth Energy, says that adopting an LCFS that selectively applies one standard for biofuels and another for all other fuels, including gasoline, is not equitable, would cripple the ethanol industry and all but guarantee America's continued dependence on fossil fuels.
"They've ended up with a regulation which is essentially focused against corn-based ethanol as the primary liquid fuel alternative right now to gasoline," Clark said during a press conference prior to the CARB meeting. "It's an unfair singling out of one fuel, because it singles out the indirect effects of one fuel pathway and ignores the significant indirect effects of other fuels including petroleum. I think our ethanol industry can thrive in a low carbon fuel standard that has a level playing field, but the current regulation, which includes an empirically flawed calculation of only one fuel pathway, ethanol, just doesn't do that."
Clark received a letter from CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols acknowledging that some of the provisions of the proposal are not complete and need to be further studied. She pledged to research the land use issue and adapt the rule in coming years.
"I wanted to let you know that ARB firmly believes that corn ethanol will play an important role in helping California achieve the goals of the LCFS. The federal RFS already requires significant volumes of corn ethanol to be blended into gasoline and the quantity of corn ethanol in California is expected to reach nearly 2 billion gallons in 2010. We expect the current generation of corn ethanol fuels to play a significant role well into the next decade," Nichols wrote. " Please be assured that the Air Resources Board intends to continue to work with industry to ensure that corn ethanol, especially when produced from the new low-carbon pathways your industry is working on now, continues to play an important role in helping to address climate change and contributing to the energy security and economy of both California and the nation."
Clark said they are asking to Air Resources Board to take the time needed to study the indirect land use charges and evaluate the impact across the whole energy spectrum, not just single out biofuels. He says Chairwoman Nichol's letter indicates that is important.
In the letter Nichols outlined steps she is requesting of the board including committing to an ongoing investigation including input from outside experts to evaluate the land use and other indirect effect of all transportation fuels; harmonize where possible the data, modeling and values used for life-cycle analysis and land use change with the Environmental Protection Agency and European Commission; and expand upon an approach within the rule which allows suppliers of alternative fuels, including biofuels, to provide data and information to certify their feedstocks and fuel production processes.
"What we'd like to see is a modification of the regulations, the numbers there that specifically penalize corn-based ethanol," Clark said. "This industry has a definite contribution to make. Ultimately when we go to cellulosic ethanol we'll need a lot more ethanol than corn could ever hope to provide, but we won't get there if we single out and pick on America's corn-based ethanol producers. They are the essential pathway to cellulosic ethanol."