Former Vice President Al Gore urged lawmakers last week to overcome partisan differences and take action to reduce greenhouse gases.
Testifying to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Gore endorsed a democratic plan calling for mandatory 20 percent reductions in carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 -- and an 83 percent cut by 2050.
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio denounced the bill, calling it a "massive national energy tax on every American who drives a car, buys a U.S. manufactured product, or has the audacity to flip on a light switch."
But some states aren't waiting for Washington. Late last week, California adopted the nation's first low-carbon fuel standard. And though the "Golden State" consumes 10 percent of the nation's gasoline, the decision was sharply criticized by ethanol proponents.
Late last week, the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, adopted the nation's first mandate requiring the use of low-carbon fuels. In a 9-to-1 decision, CARB set California on the road to a 10 percent reduction in carbon content of the "Golden State's" gasoline by 2020.
With ethanol producers already lobbying hard to increase the use of their predominately corn-based biofuel this would appear to be a good sign. Surprisingly, though, there is considerable disagreement as to whether CARB's biofuel rules give ethanol a passing grade.
Bob Dinneen, CEO, Renewable Fuels Association: "I think it is a disgrace what the state of California has done. What started out as a really good idea to create a low carbon fuel standard and incentivize technologies that will reduce carbon into the atmosphere has turned into something far different, because of the selective use of the science that they've utilized. And, in fact, what they've created is a 'do not enter sign' for any Midwest ethanol production and what the result is going to be is likely more petroleum use, not less, and most certainly higher costs to California consumers."
Mary Nichols, Chairman, California Air Resources Board: "This is a rule that is aimed at getting the major oil companies to match some of the kinds of investments that other business in this country, including electric utilities and the auto manufacturers are now making to produce products that are much more fuel efficient and that have much less of an impact on air pollution and on the climate."
Nichols says eleven ethanol production pathways were scientifically reviewed and seven passed muster. And, she says, ethanol producers are misinterpreting the standard.
Mary Nichols, Chairman, California Air Resources Board: "I think they are actually misreading the rule on the way it works. The rule only applies to the oil companies or companies that sell fuel directly to the public. And for them it mandates this 10 percent reduction in overall carbon from their products."
The dispute centers on the parameters for measuring how much carbon is used in creating biofuels like ethanol. And, according to Dinneen, petroleum companies are not being evaluated by the same rules.
Bob Dinneen, CEO, Renewable Fuels Association: "...their assumption is that when a bushel of grain is used in the production of ethanol in the Midwest that somehow an acre of rain forest is going to be destroyed. The problem is they only applied this phenomenon of indirect effects to corn-based ethanol."
CARB has committed to reevaluating land-use and other indirect effects by December of 2011 when recommendations for change will be presented to the Board.
Mary Nichols, Chairman, California Air Resources Board:"most of those fuels actually do get a significant benefit over today's gasoline and we think they're going to do very well in the market place...but if they produced the ethanol in a plant that is mostly burning coal and then ship it to California that's not gonna be a benefit for California..."
If all goes according to CARB's plan, the use of corn-based ethanol will triple by the 2020 deadline. The RFA can only wait and see if the corn-based biofuel gets the nod.