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State air regulators expected to advance 'low carbon fuel standard,' cleaner-burning fuels

A compressed natural gas (CNG) hose dispenses gas to a Honda Civic at a clean energy fuel station January 18, 2007 in San Francisco, California. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed executive order S-01-07 establishing the world's first low carbon standard for transportation fuels in the state of California. The order will reduce dependence on oil and will lower carbon intensity of California's passenger vehicle fuels by at least 10 percent by 2020.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A compressed natural gas (CNG) hose dispenses gas to a Honda Civic at a clean energy fuel station January 18, 2007 in San Francisco. California has approved the world's first low carbon standard for transportation fuels, intended to reduce dependence on oil and lower carbon intensity of California's passenger vehicle fuels by at least 10% within 5 years.

California air regulators vote Thursday on recommitting to the low carbon fuel standard, a key part of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction plan that promotes switching to cleaner-burning fuels.

The vote satisfies a procedural requirement stemming from a years-long legal battle over the program. Midwestern ethanol interests claimed in federal court that California lacked Constitutional authority to regulate out-of-state fuel producers.

California’s rule does a complete “life cycle” analysis of a fuel’s carbon footprint, including not only the greenhouse gas produced by its combustion, but also emissions associated with fuels’ production and delivery to market.

Opponents to California's program lost in court. But during years of legal conflict, manufacturers have advanced new and less-carbon-intense recipes for their fuels, says John Boesel, the president of the clean fuels advocacy group CALSTART.

Boesel says new fuels made from algae are coming to market, and so are other biofuels. “We’re seeing a big growth and interest in taking biological material that decomposes and would normally release methane into the atmosphere, seeing that converted into a form of renewable natural gas," he says. 

The Air Resources Board is expected to re-authorize the low carbon fuel standard on the original schedule. That means fuel makers will likely still have until 2020 to lighten their carbon footprint, or pay a penalty.