Advance Cleaner Fuels

Burning oil and gas to fuel cars creates an enormous amount of pollution. Tailpipes contribute to unhealthy air, and transportation is responsible for 30 percent of the nation’s climate change pollution. Biofuels and biodiesels made from corn, switchgrass, algae, and other sources reduce dangerous emissions, but some bioenergy resources are cleaner than others—and some cause their own environmental harm.

NRDC pushes for biofuels that are sustainably grown, protect sensitive landscapes, and lower carbon pollution across their life cycle. We work at the state and federal levels to create incentives for clean fuels, and we partner with the aviation industry and other large buyers to ensure their biofuel purchases are truly sustainable.

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In California, we helped design and secure the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, which offers incentives for producers of motor fuels—including gasoline and corn ethanol—to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels sold in the state. The standard calculates carbon pollution from extraction to refining to burning, which prods companies to move away from dirty fuels such as tar sands oil. The standard is expected to double the use of alternative fuels to 14 percent of California’s transportation energy mix by 2020 and nearly triple it to 20 percent by 2025. Along with other carbon-reduction and oil-saving measures, the standard will help shrink consumers’ fuel costs by approximately $1,000 per household by 2022. That’s an estimated total savings of $50 billion over the next decade.

Oil companies fought the low-carbon fuel standard at every step. Their lawsuits and ad campaigns delayed its passage for five years, but NRDC and our allies kept fighting back. We helped defend the standard in court, documented the health benefits of reducing tailpipe pollution, and assembled a coalition of business leaders and public health groups to champion the cause. We also demonstrated that the oil industry could meet the standard using existing, cost-effective technologies and fuel stocks. Our efforts paid off when the standard went into effect in 2015, and now NRDC advocates are helping the state implement it. We also helped Oregon pass a similar standard in the legislature that year, and we are working with other states to do the same.

We are also working to ensure that the growing market for biofuels is supplied by truly clean resources. Large fuel buyers can have a hard time assessing whether biofuels are produced sustainably or actually destroy wildlife habitat and increase carbon emissions. NRDC assesses certification programs to make sure they accurately measure carbon reductions, forestry impacts, and wildlife threats across the entire biofuels life cycle. We focus on the aviation industry because it is a major consumer that is likely to rely on liquid fuels for the next several decades. We release an Aviation Biofuel Sustainability Scorecard that measures airlines’ successes in sourcing sustainably produced biofuels. Getting the industry to commit to 100 percent certified-sustainable biofuels will spur suppliers to start offering the cleanest fuels.

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