LCFS: A crucial tool to fight climate change

There they go again.

The oil industry and its allies are once again attacking California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), even though the groundbreaking initiative enjoys broad public support and is working to reduce carbon pollution while growing the state's clean energy economy.

As my op-ed in Sacramento's Capitol Weekly on Tuesday noted, the LCFS is a critical weapon in the state's arsenal to combat dangerous climate change. But a recent attack on the LCFS claims it and other complementary programs are not reducing net emissions, and our highly successful cap-and-trade program putting a declining limit on greenhouse gas emissions is enough.

But California needs a multi-pronged attack if the state is to meet its goals of cutting carbon pollution to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below by 2050. Eliminating any of the key programs that are foundations for achieving the goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) - whether it's the LCFS, tailpipe pollution standards for cars and trucks under the Clean Cars Program, requirements to phase in more renewables into our electricy mix under the Renewable Portfolio Standard, or energy efficiency programs - is like entering a fight with one hand (and both feet) tied. It will decrease investments in clean energy, slow related job growth, and hobble the state's efforts to achieve its long-term climate goals.

California's appraoch - with its set of targeted programs for each sector and an overall cap on statewide emissions - has shown enormous success, making it a model for other jurisdictions internationally. As a result of the state's portfolio of programs, energy efficiency in homes and businesses has increased, clean energy such as solar and wind makes up a large part of our energy mix, consumers are seeing a vast array of cleaner and more efficient cars and trucks in the market, and overall state pollution of carbon is declining.

For the transportation sector, which represents the state's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, one of the most important strategies has been the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The program requires the oil industry to cut the carbon-intensity of the fuels it sells by 10% by 2020. This performance-based standard, which is highly flexible and does not pick technology winners, rewards companies that introduce cleaner, lower carbon fuel.

The LCFS standard is already producing results. Since the start of the program in 2011, it has:

  • Reduced the use of gasoline and diesel by more than 8 billion gallons;
  • Helped to avoid 15 million metric tons of carbon pollution from entering our atmosphere, equivalent to the annual emissions of four coal-powered plants;
  • Spurred investment in clean fuels and contributed to California's No. 1 ranking in the nation in creating clean energy jobs;
  • Expanded the availability of lower carbon fuels, resulting in the market growing by 20% in terms of volumes;
  • Resulted in 50% of the fossil natural gas used in transportation being displaced with biogas.

The LCFS should be a source of pride for Californians because the Golden State is once again leading the way on an urgent threat to our well-being.

While it is no surprise that the oil industry continues to fight a standard that is good for the environment, the LCFS is important to our health, our communities and our economy. Climate change has contributed to California's drought, according to a recent study, and poses other serious risks.

A survey conducted last year by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) also found strong public support for reducing petroleum use. The LCFS sends a signal to the oil industry to find cleaner sources of energy to fuel California.

In fact, much more can be done to reduce the carbon footprint of our transportation fuels. A2015 study, conducted by the fuels and energy consulting firm Promotum and commissioned by NRDC, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Environmental Defense Fund, found it was feasible for the fuels industry to meet the 2020 standard and go even further by 2025 - reaching a 15 percent reduction target by 2025.

What's more, the fuels industry can meet the standard by providing cleaner fuels, such as electricity and advanced biofuels, and even lowering emissions from refineries and other petroleum operations by integrating renewable energy, utilizing innovative technologies, and investing in greater energy efficiency.

Another study, conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation and E4Tech, found that the Pacific Coast region can greatly diversify its fuel mix through an abundance of low carbon fuels, which could provide over a quarter of our transportation energy by 2030, a three-fold increase versus today's levels.

The LCFS and similar clean fuel standard programs are highly flexible, allowing oil companies to choose the most cost-effective approach to reducing the carbon footprint of their fuels, including buying fuel credits from companies that develop low-carbon fuels, such as biofuels, electricity, biogas and hydrogen.

As I noted in the op-ed, the auto and electric power industries are already moving to cut carbon pollution (by roughly half over the next ten to fifteen years)!

It's time for Big Oil to do its part.