Why Gov. Brown's Goal of Cutting Oil Use in Half Can be Done

Governor Jerry Brown was inaugurated for a fourth term on Monday, making climate change and carbon pollution a core part of his agenda, and calling for California "to build for the future, not steal from it." A major component of his effort will be to cut petroleum use from cars and trucks by 50 percent within fifteen years. As I explain below, not only is target achievable, but will save California's billions of dollars in fuel bills as well.

Unlike other bold pronouncements you've surely heard by past politicians, there are some strong reasons why we should believe the Governor can actually achieve these goals (beyond the Governor's sheer staying power and reputation of just wanting to, in his own words, "get sh*t done.") Here's why:

  1. California is already on track to meet half the target: As the Governor states, the state already has "the most integrated policy to deal with climate change of any political jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere." Thanks to the policies under the state's clean energy and climate law, AB32, California now leads the nation in spurring more efficient cars, in efforts to develop more walkable communities and transit options, and in introducing cleaner fuels. NRDC's estimates are that with full implementation of existing and currently proposed measures, California could be on track to reduce its petroleum consumption by 25% by 2030 as compared to last year, or halfway to Governor Brown's target.
  2. California is poised to take the next steps: Achieving the target does not require any breakthroughs in technology or even new programs. California simply needs to do more of what it has already been doing. By building upon the existing framework and establishing new targets beyond 2020, the state can indeed halve petroleum use while lowering carbon pollution and cleaning the air. My past analysis and analysis by California Air Resources Board show that continued improvement in vehicle efficiency and deployment of electric-drive cars, trucks and buses; more sustainable development and access to transit; and continued strengthening of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard are key components.

    This February, California's Air Resources Board is set to take another step through the readoption of the Low Carbon Fuels Standard, which will incentivize all fuel providers to produce and deliver cleaner fuels. As shown below, this will help lead to further reductions in petroleum use.

    ARB Petroleum Reductions.jpg

    Source: http://www.arb.ca.gov/newsrel/petroleum_reductions.pdf
  3. Less Money Out of Our Pocketbooks for Transportation Fuels. In addition to having clean air and climate benefits, our state's environmental policies are saving Californians dramatically at the fuel pump. Extending the programs will save Californians even more. California households are expected to save hundreds to thousands of dollars in their transportation fuel bills—over $800 by 2020 and over $2,000 by 2030 on average—thanks largely to more efficient cars, more walkable communities with transit, and fuel diversification. Last year, Californians had 26 passenger car models to choose from that could achieve over 40 miles per gallon (mpg), versus only two models just eight years ago.

    Fuel Efficienct Choices.jpg
  4. California continues to reject the oil industry's attempts to derail our climate policies: Despite the oil industry spending a record $70 million in advancing its agenda in the state since 2009, Californians have overwhelmingly rejected their attempts to derail AB32. Most policymakers—and the public—rejected the oil industry's tactics the past year as well, which was recently unmasked by Bloomberg Businessweek as a "conspiracy to kill off California's climate law" through the creation of 16 front groups made "to look and sound like grassroot citizen-activists." Such tactics and fear-mongering was also punctuated by continued claims the past two years by the Western States Petroleum Association that gas prices could spike by 76 cents per gallon this January 1st, when oil companies joined other major polluters under California's climate program to limit carbon pollution. The fear-mongering seems to have fallen to the wayside, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that, average gasoline prices today in California are 30 cents lower than a month ago, and nearly one dollar lower than a year ago.

We are already halfway through implementation of the existing AB32 clean energy and climate law and are reaping the benefits. Perhaps the most important reason why we will halve petroleum consumption and cut carbon pollution is simply: we must. As Governor Brown eloquently stated:

This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.... We are at a crossroads. With big and important new programs now launched and the budget carefully balanced, the challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative, as our forebears have shown and our descendants would expect.


* For further details on the NRDC estimates, see Technical Notes.pdf.

About the Authors

Simon Mui

Director, California Vehicles and Fuels, Energy & Transportation program

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