New Report: How CA Can Boost Biofuel Production to Cut Pollution and Benefit Economy

Berkeley, Calif., December 2, 2015 – California has not taken full advantage of opportunities to increase its in-state biofuel production, despite state policies that encourage biofuel consumption as a way to switch from high- to low-carbon petroleum fuels, according to a new report.

Planting Fuels: How California Can Boost Local, Low-Carbon Biofuel Production,” is a joint project of the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative at the UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools. 

Coming on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new final rules on national biofuels requirements, the report underscores the importance of local production of low-carbon biofuel. It can reduce emissions by avoiding the shipping of feedstocks from out-of-state or overseas, spur development of carbon-reducing byproducts like biochar compost, and reduce wildfire risk. At the same time, local production can provide jobs and revenue in economically challenged parts of the state by harvesting biofuel feedstocks from renewable sources such as corn, sugarcane and food waste. 

“California’s environmental laws and policies have created an effective framework for cutting down our use of petroleum fuels. These high-carbon emitting fuels power our cars, trucks and airplanes, but pollute the air, pose widespread health risks, and threaten the stability of the earth’s climate,” said Ethan N. Elkind, report co-author and associate director of the climate change initiative at Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment and UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

“We have the potential in California to produce a significant amount of low-carbon fuel to meet our transportation needs over the coming decades, but the state has not yet taken full advantage of its own agricultural opportunities to increase biofuel production,” Elkind said.     

California will need more federal and state action to achieve the greater economic and environmental payoff that can come from in-state biofuel production, according to the report.  

Planting Fuels identifies key barriers that currently exist for in-state biofuel production and outlines numerous solutions to overcome them. Top barriers include:   

  • policy uncertainty at multiple levels of government, primarily related to incentive programs that hinder private investment in biofuels;
  • restricted market access to existing fuel infrastructure and gas stations due to incumbent industry resistance from automakers, gas stations, and petroleum fuel refiners;
  • policy misalignment among various levels of government that may inadvertently limit biofuels deployment; and
  • lack of feedstock access to some of the most promising in-state resources that could result in significant environmental and economic co-benefits. 

To overcome those barriers, the report calls for greater state and federal engagement, including: 

  • increased state support, such as utilizing cap-and-trade auction revenue, to drive in-state biofuel production that accurately accounts for total carbon emissions reduction;
  • financial incentives for automakers and gas stations to allow them to sell greater amounts of low-carbon biofuels and higher blend rates;
  • a state-launched process to study the optimal reduction of nitrogen oxides, greenhouse gases, and petroleum fuels; and
  • improved access to, and financial support for, in-state feedstock production, particularly on idled farmland and forest lands to reduce wildfire risks. 

A live webinar on the report findings will be held on Monday, Dec. 14th, from 11 am to 12 noon. Speakers will include:

  • Tim Olsen, energy and fuels program manager at the California Energy Commission;
  • Lisa Mortenson, chief executive officer at Community Fuels; and
  • Mary Solecki, western states advocate for Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Planting Fuels is the 16th in a series of policy papers by the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, a partnership between UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment. Funded by Bank of America, the series connects leaders from business, government, nonprofit organizations, and academia to address pressing environmental needs and inform decision-makers on policies necessary for businesses to succeed in the era of climate change.

Contact Ethan Elkind for report details at eelkind@law.berkeley.edu, or (m) 310-729-0902. Mr. Elkind will be at the UN Climate Change talks in France as of Fri., Dec. 4, but available by email, phone and Skype. He will return for the Dec. 14 biofuels webinar.

About UCLA School of Law
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About University of California, Berkeley, School of Law
For over a century, Berkeley Law has prepared lawyers to be skilled and ethical problem-solvers. The law school’s curriculum—one of the most comprehensive and innovative in the nation— offers its J.D. and advanced degree candidates a broad array of nearly 200 courses. Students collaborate with leading scholars and practitioners working on legal issues at more than a dozen interdisciplinary centers, institutes, and clinical programs within its Boalt Hall complex. Follow us on Twitter.