Next up for Keystone XL and Tar Sands: California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard

How California could send a powerful message that oil companies must phase in cleaner fuels and phase out dirty fuels like tar sands in the nation’s largest market.

Make no mistake. President Obama’s decision to delay the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a big deal.

Some 15,000 Americans took the case directly to the White House. People sent more than 300,000 messages and put the brakes on a process that was all but coasting to approval. Americans from all walks of life made a difference in a battle against a well-funded oil industry effort.

BUT, don’t forget: Big Oil is not going to give up on its plan to strip-mine and steam tar sands from deep under the great Canadian Boreal forest and pipe one of the dirtiest crude oil sources 1,700 miles across America. Whoever is president in 2013—Obama or one of his Republican opponents—will have the final say.

And here’s the important part—we don’t have to wait until 2013 to send a clear signal that America wants cleaner fuels and not dirtier ones. A little-known process in California could send a powerful message that high-carbon intensity tar sands and other dirty fuel sources will need to either clean up or be phased out of the nation’s largest market. You can help make that happen.

Why California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard Matters for Tar Sands and Keystone XL

 As America’s most populous state and largest market for transportation fuels[1], California has a huge role to play in defining the potential market for dirty fuels like Canadian tar sands.

On December 16, the California Air Resources Board (CARB)—the regulatory body charged with protecting residents from air pollution—will consider modifications to California’s landmark Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Anyone who cares about tar sands or Keystone XL and other dirty fuel sources has a vested interest in the outcome of CARB’s deliberations.

Not surprisingly, Big Oil is pressuring CARB to weaken the Low Carbon Fuel Standard by eliminating key protections from even dirtier oil like tar sands. By ensuring the standard is strengthened and not weakened, California is poised to send a powerful and permanent market message that tar sands and other dirty fuel sources will be phased out and cleaner fuels phased in.

California made history in 2009 when the state established the world’s first, performance-based standard that requires oil companies to phase out dirty fuels for cars and trucks and to invest in cleaner alternatives, like electricity, hydrogen, advanced biofuels and natural gas. The state’s approach to combatting carbon pollution and high-carbon investments is now being replicated by similar standards in other U.S. states and around the world. As we speak, the European Union is debating whether high-carbon fossil fuel sources like tar sands should be given a free-pass or not.

Big Oil spent millions to gut California’s clean energy future with Proposition 23, but suffered overwhelming defeat at the ballot box.  Now, the industry and its lobbyists are taking the case back to CARB—seeking to weaken one of the law’s central provisions by exempting high-carbon intensity fuels like tar sands. We can’t let them succeed.

Instead, we need to urge the CARB to do the opposite and make California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard even stronger. NRDC and other supporters of California’s clean energy future are urging CARB to strengthen their proposal by ensuring that each oil refinery properly accounts for their individual use of dirtier oil sources—like tar sands—that only take us backwards.

How you can help: Tell the California Air Resources Board that you support a strong Low Carbon Fuel Standard – one that compels the oil industry to phase out investments in even dirtier crude oils like tar sands and phase in investments in clean fuels. Submit your comments at:

or Write to: Clerk of the Board, California Air Resources Board, 1001 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.


[1] U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Highway Policy Information, Highway Statistics. Our Nation’s Highways 2008.