UC Key in Pioneering State Emissions Plan

    Transportation policy researchers from UC Davis and UC Berkeley will take charge of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sweeping new emissions policy to slash auto emissions across the state with new plans to research alternatives to petroleum-based fuels.

    Hydie Cheung/Guardian
    UC scientists are an integral part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to cut carbon dioxide auto emissions by 10 percent by 2020.

    The innovative policy – the strictest emissions reduction proposal in the nation – will be one of the state’s first steps toward its ultimate goal of cutting 25 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and bringing production levels equivalent to lower 1990 standards by 2020, an agreement enacted by Assembly Bill 32.

    Amended in August 2006, the bill charges the state of California with the responsibilities of regulating greenhouse gases and establishing a cap on carbon emissions. California’s transportation sector contributes about 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas figure – and nonindustrial vehicles are responsible for half that statistic: an estimated 96 percent of the state’s transportation needs depend on petroleum-based fuels.

    Four transportation policy experts at UC Berkeley and UC Davis are collaborating to develop the governor’s new Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The policy is codirected by UC Berkeley Joint Center for Transportation and Sustainability Research Director Alex Farrell and UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies Director Dan Sperling.

    “”The policy proposed by the governor … would not mandate any particular technology; it would use a market-based approach, which, combined with rigorous accounting and auditing, would enable companies to develop solutions and technologies that’d make the most sense for their customers,”” Farrell said.

    The policy’s most unique aspect is its regulatory implementation through a market approach, Farrell said.

    The new Low Carbon Fuel Standard would target fuel suppliers – fuels that are used primarily for passenger vehicles, rather than the automobile industry itself.

    Over 24 million passenger cars are registered in California – more than one per licensed driver. Hybrid and flex-fuel vehicles account for only 1.3 percent of the total registered vehicles. The developing LCFS is equivalent to removing 3 million vehicles from the road.

    The new auto emissions policy will reduce carbon dioxide production by 13 million metric tons every year with the goal peaking at its reduction of 174 million metric tons by 2020. According to UCSD physics professor Michael Anderson, 1 million metric tons is about the same as the mass of all current residents in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, or equivalent to the volume of water consumed daily in San Diego County.

    The regulatory policy is to meant to develop a market for alternative fuels in a way that will catalyze technology research that reduces carbon dioxide emissions with a cost-effective approach, Sperling stated in a press release.

    “”Very few details have been set [about the LCFS], but it will be treated as a performance standard by regulating entities – probably through refineries and fuel blenders,”” Sperling said. “”[Distributors] will be allowed to buy, sell and trade credits; this is an early action item under AB 32’s global warming program and will take effect no later than 2010.””

    Multiple alternative fuel choices are waiting to be utilized, including low-carbon ethanol to dilute into gasoline and the expanding option of low-carbon hydrogen, Deputy Secretary for Communications at the California Environmental Protection Agency BreAnda Northcutt said.

    According to Farrell, the university’s involvement in creating the new fuel standard could lead to a positive impact on the nation’s economy, opening more opportunities for employment in new sciences and technologies, alternative fuels and even the production of these fuels themselves, opening a labor market that didn’t exist before.

    According to a statement from the governor’s office, UC researchers approximate that the LCFS has the potential to generate over 20,000 new jobs and increase the gross state product by $60 billion.

    California’s inventive LCFS will set precedent for leading national and international environmental policies, avoiding a battle between establishing winners and losers in the fuel and energy industry – a controversy that would normally take place in the political realm, Northcutt said.

    The European Union is set discuss the implentation of initiatives similar to California’s this year.

    “”I don’t want to blow my horns too much, but I think [our research] would leave a positive impact on the UC’s reputation – this is a policy that’s kind of novel,”” Farrell said.

    “”Our study would be groundbreaking in the fact that this is the first time the policy has been proposed; I do believe that [both] the governor and the Legislature recognize that California has always been a leader in developing environmental policies both nationally and internationally and we have the opportunity as a state to continue our reputation,”” he said.

    Funded by the Energy Foundation, research for new alternative fuel methods may not have much of an impact on taxpayers – since research for alternative fuel has been conducted for years, ways to reduce greenhouse gas content already exist. The state will now bring these methods into California’s transportation economy and wait for the long-term effect of competition between multiple energy sources to occur and lower fuel prices. The LCFS also allows fuel suppliers to customize their approach in reducing carbon emissions in order to react to individual consumer demand.

    Farrell had no comment on the policy’s impact for future UC research grants.

    Surprisingly, the LCFS has met virtually no resistance. Oil conglomerates, private businesses, multi-national energy corporations – all are in support of weaning the state off its heavy reliance on petroleum.

    “”California has taken the leadership in moving the entire country beyond debate and denial [into] action,”” Schwarzenegger said in his State of the State address. “”As a world leader in energy efficiency, alternative energy and reducing greenhouse gases, California’s new low carbon standard is an innovative action that will diversify our fuel supplies and establish a vibrant market for cleaner-burning fuels.””

    The new standard will push some of the most forward environmental policies in the nation, strengthen our fight against global warming and diversify alternative fuel sources – giving hope to reducing our dependence on petroleum, Northcutt said.

    The new auto emissions policy team also includes two more UC Davis researchers – Director of the California Biomass Collaborative Bryan Jenkins and UC Davis environmental sciences and policy professor Joan Ogden, along with a handful of researchers and graduate students.

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