Environment + Climate

How California can boost biofuel production to cut pollution and help the economy

UCLA–UC Berkeley report finds that the state hasn’t taken full advantage of agricultural resources


California has not taken full advantage of opportunities to increase its in-state production of biofuel, despite state policies that encourage biofuel consumption, according to a report (PDF) by the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative at the UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools. 

Coming on the heels of new Environmental Protection Agency rules on biofuels requirements, the report underscores the importance of local production of low-carbon biofuel. It suggests that the state could reduce emissions by not shipping feedstocks from out-of-state or overseas, spurring development of carbon-reducing byproducts like biochar compost, and reducing the risk of wildfire. The report also finds that biofuel production — for example, harvesting biofuel feedstocks from renewable sources such as corn, sugarcane and food waste — could provide jobs and create revenue in economically challenged parts of the state. 

“California’s environmental laws and policies have created an effective framework for cutting down our use of petroleum fuels,” said Ethan Elkind, a co-author of the report and associate director of the climate change initiative at UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and UC Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.

“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,” he said. “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.”     

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.  

The report identifies key barriers to biofuel production in California and outlines numerous solutions to overcome them. Among the possible solutions are financial incentives for automakers and gas stations that would allow them to sell greater amounts of low-carbon biofuels and higher blend rates, and a  state-launched process to study the optimal reduction of nitrogen oxides, greenhouse gases, and petroleum fuels. 

Related event

The report’s findings will be discussed in a webinar Monday, Dec. 14, from 11 a.m. to 12 noon. Speakers will include Tim Olsen, energy and fuels program manager at the California Energy Commission; Lisa Mortenson, chief executive officer of Community Fuels; and Mary Solecki, western states advocate for Environmental Entrepreneurs.

For journalists: Elkind is attending the UN Climate Change talks in France beginning Dec. 4, but reporters can contact him at eelkind@law.berkeley.edu or 310-729-0902, and he will be available by Skype. He will return for the Dec. 14 webinar.

Read the full news release.

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