Every year, Big Oil trots out the same shopworn lies. Here’s how we get out of that endless loop.
This could finally be the year when Big Oil stops telling lies about policies designed to reduce climate pollution. It could also be the year pigs fly.
Since the oil industry trots out the same climate canards every year, what better day to dispel them than on Groundhog Day? For the last 15 years, Big Oil’s lobbyists have been trying to stop clean fuel standards (CFS) from being enacted, first in California, then Oregon, and now Washington. They are nothing if not consistent, trying to frighten consumers in order to protect their profits.
The problem is the terror tales they spend millions telling have never come to fruition. Clean fuel standards have consistently lowered transportation emissions while creating billions in clean energy investment and having little to no impact on gas prices.
Let’s review the tape.
Price Increases at the Pump? Hogwash!
The oil industry’s claim that clean fuel standards raise gas and diesel prices is as stale as cigarette smoke coating the walls of yesterday’s dive bars. Since California instituted a CFS in 2011, the retail price at the pump is 40¢ per gallon LESS.
In fact, California residents spent a smaller fraction of their household budget on vehicle fuel in 2019 than they did in 2015.
Meanwhile, economic growth in California has remained strong. The state’s transportation economy (shipping, freight, logistics) grew 94% in the past decade, while transportation-related emissions were capped at only 4%.
And that four-star Pinocchio Big Oil’s been using to furrow the brows of truckers? It turns out renewable diesel emits up to 80% less pollution and costs 20 cents less per gallon than conventional diesel fuel.
Look. Can you blame the oil industry for trying to skew the facts? They’ve enjoyed a 100-year monopoly over your gas tank, and things have worked out pretty well for their executives.
The reality is that competition lowers prices in the marketplace, and if Washingtonians have a clean fuel standard, it will be easier to make cleaner fuels locally out of feedstocks like food, farm, and forest waste instead of importing it from unstable places around the world and continuing on a path towards climate Armageddon. It’s high time for drivers to have the option to reduce their carbon footprint when they pull up to the pump.
We Need A Multi-Pronged Approach
Another fascinating fairy tale Big Oil likes to tell is that there are cheaper ways to reduce carbon emissions than with a clean fuel standard. Never mind that they never tell you what those alternative pathways are, but the narrative suits the suits in their C-Suites, so they just keep saying it.
While it’s true there are other policies meant to reduce climate pollution overall, they are targeted at generating electricity and heating buildings. Washington has no tools to significantly reduce or specifically address the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG): our vehicle fuel emissions.
Drivers are going to keep buying vehicle fuel regardless of what type is available. We need to produce it with a lower carbon footprint.
Clean Fuel Standards Hold Oil Companies Accountable…That’s Why They Don’t Like It
The CFS specifically requires fuel suppliers to reduce the average carbon intensity of their fuels. While oil companies are held accountable for the pollution from their products, they have a variety of alternatives to achieve this goal, including biofuel blending, lower carbon intensity biofuels, renewable natural gas, vehicle electrification, renewable jet fuel, and refinery efficiency improvements. It’s an agnostic tool that keeps the government out of the business of picking winners and losers among fuels while encouraging the market to innovate to meet consumer demand.
The calculation of carbon intensity involves a wells-to-wheels approach, factoring in the energy used to extract, refine, and transport whatever mix of fuels a supplier chooses. Our planet doesn’t distinguish between these processes and neither should our policies. If it looks like pollution and smells like pollution, it’s pollution.
onsider how the CFS has caused ethanol fuel production to evolve. Once California instituted a clean fuel standard in 2011, Midwest corn farmers realized they needed to produce their crop more sustainably in order to sell their product to the largest fuel market in the nation. The result has been a 25% reduction in the carbon intensity of ethanol fuel sold in California over the last eight years.
Why The Clean Fuel Standard Makes Sense For Washington
HB 1091, the proposed CFS for Washington, will require GHG emissions from transportation fuels to drop 10% from 2017 levels by 2028 and 20% below the 2017 levels by 2035. Petroleum producers who fail to meet that standard will have to purchase credits sold by those who are making cleaner fuels. The result levels the playing field and encourages everybody to produce the cleanest fuels possible.
If approved by the legislature, the law will take effect in January of 2023, which means that emissions must drop an average of 2.1% per year to achieve the 2028 target.
An analysis of the transportation fuels market in Puget Sound, the most populous region in Washington, determined that implementing the CFS could reduce the carbon intensity of fuels by up to 26% by 2030. Even modest changes in the fuel supply can achieve a 10-16% reduction.
The CFS in California has caused the displacement of 16 billion gallons of petroleum-based fuels. Even what looks like a small decrease in carbon intensity each year compounds and makes a difference.
We Can’t Keep Repeating Groundhog Day
But what about the cost of continuing business as usual? Big Oil will tell legislators in Olympia to wait for a better-designed policy to come along (while they continue their profiteering), but here again, the numbers aren’t on their side. Channeling Bill Murray and repeating Groundhog Day over and over until we get it exactly right is no longer an option.
Every year that we delay reducing the carbon intensity of our fuels, the steeper the curve that will be necessary to reach the goals we need to hit to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Make no mistake: more damaging forest fires, less hospitable waters for our marine life, and more respiratory disease have a cost to all of us. A penny at the pump for cleaner fuels is a bargain in comparison.
It’s a certainty Punxsutawney Petroleum will once again predict a wintry forecast for gas prices this year, but it’s time for our legislature to step out of the shadow. HB 1091 benefits us all–from drivers who want to clean up their commute and rural communities looking to create jobs, and children, the elderly, and poor communities who suffer disproportionate impacts from climate pollution.
Join with Californians, Oregonians, and British Columbians who are forging a cleaner path to the future, and urge your legislator to vote Yes on CFS.