Low Carbon Fuel Standard: A Clean Energy Path Away from Oil

On Monday in Boston there will be a forum to try to convince people that we need more dirty fuel sources for our cars and trucks. No kidding, a group backed by the American Petroleum Institute will be protecting old oil interests and pushing expanded use of dirty tar sands while simultaneously attacking clean fuel policies designed to wean us from oil and help curb global warming.

The forum is being hosted by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a front group for the oil industry that wants to keep us addicted to dirty fuels. CEA is being joined at the forum by a minister from Alberta, Canada, home of the tar sands industry. As my colleague Liz Barratt Brown discusses here and here, CEA—with the support of Big Oil—is waging a campaign to kill an innovative policy that promotes new, cleaner fuels for transportation, specifically the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

The setting for the forum is Boston because eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are developing a LCFS for the region. The states are working with the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) –located in Boston—on a technical and economic analysis and framework for the policy in the region.

Under a Low Carbon Fuel Standard, transportation fuels follow a gradual trajectory away from today’s petroleum to fuels that emit less carbon. As a fuel-neutral performance standard based on carbon emissions, the LCFS does not ban any fuel type but instead rewards those fuels that cut carbon pollution per unit of energy. Clean, low carbon fuel examples include electricity and advanced biofuels. Fuels made from tar sands, on the other hand, emit more carbon than conventional gasoline fuel because the extraction and upgrading processes for melting oil out of the tar sands is so energy intensive. Therefore, using tar sands feedstocks makes it harder to clean our fuel supply.

Tar sands extraction and processing is also incredibly destructive to our lands, water and wildlife. As my colleague Susan Casey-Lefkowitz points out, 1,600 ducks died in a single incident after the birds landed on a tar sands mine waste pond in Canada. She also notes business-as-usual practices result in the leakage of 1 billion gallons per year  (or 2.74 million gallons per day) of poisonous waste from the tar sands tailings ponds.

As I write this post, Susan and Liz are returning to Alberta, Canada to guide others who have only heard the accounts of ecological destruction. Due to the wide-ranging and deep concerns about tar sands use and expanded exploitation, they are joined by NRDC’s Executive Director, Peter Lehner, and Roland Hwang, Director of NRDC’s Transportation Program.

For nearly 100 years, the United States has operated its transportation system with primarily one fuel: oil. News of the oil spewing from the Gulf Disaster reminds that our oil dependence is risky and costly. We need to end our oil addiction and move to clean 21st Century fuels. American ingenuity is the resource we need to tap and policies like the LCFS are designed to drive clean energy innovation. The status quo embraced by CEA and its supporters is not sustainable. The eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states developing a regional LCFS have their eye on a better future.