Lowering emissions, raising red flags

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard was intended to reduce California carbon emissions, but it may come with some terrible unintended consequences.

We've all seen the movie: Some small, seemingly unrelated actions lead to dire and unintended consequences. It happens in real life too, especially in government. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard, a regulatory program established under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was intended to reduce California carbon emissions, but it may come with some terrible unintended consequences.

The concept underpinning the standard is that most Californians would pay a little more at the pump if that guaranteed cleaner air. But what if the program also unwittingly supported the economy in places like Iraq, promoted clear-cutting of the Amazon rain forest, increased hunger in nations such as Haiti and Guatemala, and eliminated jobs in California? These are some of the unintended consequences if we don't change how the standard is implemented. The program, which took effect in 2011, requires a 10% reduction in "carbon intensity" in our fuel, taking into account emissions during the process, including extraction, refining, transportation and consumer use. The California Air Resources Board, charged with implementing the standard, assigns scores to oil from around the world because oil is not all the same. If oil from one region contains more sulfur, for example, it gets a lower score. The gasoline produced from it must be mixed with "cleaner" fuels to achieve a carbon reduction.

The air resources board attempts to include factors such as the environmental practices in the country of origin and the amount of emissions from shipping fuel here. But what it found was that because it needs more refining, oil from California and Canada scored worse than oil from faraway places like Saudi Arabia, even though our environmental laws are much stricter and shipping foreign oil and fuel to California takes a lot of oil and fuel.

If we import higher-scoring foreign oil, it would benefit nations such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia (and indirectly, producers like Iran), to the potential detriment of California's economy and energy independence.

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