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Flickers of Life for Clean Fuels Standard as Oil Sands Plans Form

Plans are taking shape to pipe carbon-heavy Canadian oil to the Northeast, pushing into gear an effort to size up CO2 costs of fuels used in the region.

Feb 26, 2013
(Page 2 of 2 )
Bayway Refinery in Elizabeth, N.J.

Tailpipe emissions account for as much as 40 percent of greenhouse gases in the Northeast, making fuel policy crucial to efforts to tackle global warming.

"It's hard to understate how important a transportation fuel policy is for the region," said Jeremy McDiarmid, the Massachusetts director of Environment Northeast, an advocacy group.

Clean Fuels Standard Dead, for Now

Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said progress on the Clean Fuels Standard slowed to a halt last year as leaders struggled to reach consensus on what the program should look like.

"There are no formal plans to move forward at this point," Johnson said in an interview.  

Vermont and other states wanted a legally binding rule like California's standard. But governors and legislators in Maine, New Jersey and New Hampshire rejected the idea of a mandatory policy. New Jersey officially opted out.

Johnson gave several reasons for the declining interest, including concerns that legal problems surrounding California's program could undermine its own efforts, fierce opposition from oil industry groups and rising political conservatism in the region.

More practically, the same state officials working with NESCAUM on the fuel standard work together on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which recently underwent an aggressive and comprehensive review.

Several states are concerned, Johnson said, because "if you raise the carbon intensity of the fuel you're using, it makes the goal of lowering the carbon intensity overall that much harder to achieve. It's going in the wrong direction."

Frank Litz, executive director of Pace Law School's Energy and Climate Center, said his center plans to work with the Northeast states to study the economic and technical aspects of the Clean Fuels Standard and "build constituencies to get it over the finish line."

That way, proponents can "pounce when the moment is right," he told a group of state environmental officials and advocates at a Pace workshop this month, where the tracking system was discussed for one of the first times publicly.

The regional low-carbon fuel standard could become a target for the resurgent climate movement, said David Stember, who coordinates the Tar Sands Free Northeast campaign for 350.org, a climate advocacy organization.

Stember and others recently led the largest tar sands protests ever in the region against plans to pipe the oil to Maine and other states.

"I think people will get behind [the fuel standard], and they will organize around it," Stember said.

Opponents told InsideClimate News they'll keep fighting to block a low-carbon fuel standard from ever taking hold in the region.

Corey Lewandowski, director of the New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), said his group will continue to meet with individuals and groups to explain the "detrimental" economic impact of a fuel standard, so they "can be prepared" to fight against any future attempts by state officials to pursue the policy.

AFP, which is financed partly by the Koch brothers and other oil industry interests, has been one of the loudest critics of the fuel policy, along with the Consumer Energy Alliance. Both groups argue the scheme would raise gasoline prices and harm businesses and economic recovery.

"As people continue to struggle in this economy, the last thing we need to do is burden them with more rules and regulations," Lewandowski said.

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