14 February 2019

Follow California’s Lead to Lower Carbon Emissions from Fuels? You Bet.

Published in Releases and news

California View

Written by Dayne Delahoussaye

The serious threat posed by greenhouse gases (GHG) is increasing at an alarming pace. According to the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment, the impact of climate change is “presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.”[1] 

The impact of human activity on climate change is the focus of conversations globally, nationally and regionally. Despite strong scientific findings supporting the occurrence of global warming caused by GHG,[2] political responses lack consensus on addressing the issue. 

Examples include President Donald Trump’s promise to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement, in which 174 other nations and the European Union pledged to take steps to limit the global temperature rise in this century.[3] But, in countries considered to be among the most ardent supporters of the Paris Agreement, finding common ground is extremely challenging. France experienced violent protests in November and December by opponents of taxes that caused diesel prices to increase by 23 percent in 12 months.[4] French President Emmanuel Macron justified the additional taxes as an anti-pollution measure, angering residents of Paris—only about a third of whom own cars—and provoking residents in rural areas and smaller towns not well served by public transportation services.[5]

Coming to grips with the full political and economic costs of changing behavior to reduce human impact on the Earth’s climate could take years, maybe decades. We cannot afford to wait that long. 

A way forward can be found in California, where the state’s policymakers have imposed the most aggressive environmental standards in the country to reduce GHG. The result: By 2025, new vehicles in California will be required to have about half the GHG emissions and achieve nearly twice the fuel efficiency of 2010 vehicles.[6] These changes are not predicted to slow down business in the state or spark heated opposition. In fact, the California Department of Transportation estimates that the total goods transported into, out of, and within the state are going to increase 80 percent by 2040.[7] Equipped with the right policies in place to set up the state for sustainable success in the years to come, California has established a leading model for others to follow.

California Draws Its Own Environmental Road Map

California routinely sets the bar for environmental protection policies and has been an early adopter of low-carbon fuel regulations in an effort to reduce emissions from its transportation sector, which contributes 41 percent of GHG in the state.[8]

Perhaps it’s because California residents understand the treasure they have in their state’s varied Pacific coastline, mountains and deserts as generations have sought to ensure they can continue to enjoy California’s renowned outdoor lifestyles. Whatever the motivation, the state’s political leaders have consistently demonstrated widespread support for taking action to lower emissions by enacting change, including the following measures: 

  • In 1967, then Governor Ronald Reagan established the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to address air pollution. 
  • In 1970, Richard Nixon, a California native, created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) early in his first term as U.S. president. 
  • In 2002, California became the nation’s first state to introduce standards for cars and trucks designed to reduce emissions that contribute to GHG. 
  • In 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) requiring a 10 percent reduction in emissions that contribute to global warming by 2020.
  • In 2018, Governor Jerry Brown committed the state to a fleet of 5 million zero-emission vehicles in use by 2030.
  • Also in 2018, California set carbon neutrality as its goal, vowing to “remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it emits” by 2045. 

As California Goes, so Goes the Nation

You can expect California to continue upping the ante around air-quality rules. In September 2018, the CARB enacted regulations that strengthen the state’s LCFS, requiring a 20 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 (up from 10 percent by 2020).[9] The LCFS anchors California’s effort to reduce GHG emissions and spurs innovations in transportation fuels, such as hydrogen, electricity and renewable diesel.[10] More than 2 billion gallons of petroleum and natural gas a year are to be replaced with cleaner, renewable transportation fuels as a result of LCFS.[11]

In addition, California has added renewable jet fuel as a credit-generating fuel under the state’s cap-and-trade system. This move, along with the added audit and verification regulations, increases market certainty for producers of cleaner fuels.

California is also considering proposals to ban cars and trucks powered by internal combustion engines.[12] While such a measure might be a way to eliminate carbon emissions, it’s also unrealistic. Existing vehicles are likely to be around for some time, especially since car owners keep their vehicles an average of 10 years.[13] Class 8 and heavy-duty trucks have a long life cycle, so diesel-powered vehicles in current fleets are projected to still be on the road in 2030 and beyond.[14]

Many Californians as well as policymakers in other states want to move faster in eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, but they are going to have to balance their goal of cleaner air with other considerations. Among the factors are the significant costs to drivers and fleet owners. Transportation companies and local governments would need to invest millions of dollars to modify or replace vehicles that have internal combustion engines. 

Policymakers also must understand that fuel is a global commodity. It moves across oceans as well as state lines. Decisions made in California, through the lens of emissions standards and financial incentives promoting low-carbon fuels, impact the cost and availability of alternatives to fossil diesel in other states considering tougher standards and the value of carbon credits.

Consider Diesel Alternatives to Lower Emissions

While the exact future of fuel regulations is unclear, California remains on a mission to decrease GHG for its residents and the environment. The state has encouraged low-carbon solutions with a system that establishes value on carbon emissions along with incentives that make a business case for fleet operators to adopt alternatives to fossil diesel. How fleets respond is critical because the transportation sector in California is the single biggest contributor of GHG and nitrogen oxide and diesel particulate matter emissions into the atmosphere.[15]

Advancements in alternative fuels, such as renewable diesel, are also leading the way in the fuel revolution. Among the options is Neste MY Renewable Diesel™, a low-carbon fuel produced from 100 percent sustainable raw materials that cuts GHG emissions by up to 80 percent compared to petroleum diesel.[16] To comply with California fuel regulations, fleet operators can immediately burn renewable diesel in existing vehicles without modifications or the need to invest in new vehicles and refueling infrastructure.

There’s an urgent need to act on warnings contained in the National Climate Assessment. California is leading with policy solutions that carefully balance stricter emission standards with financial incentives that encourage fleet operators to reduce use of fossil fuels. These approaches enable and reward the innovations needed to continue to improve air quality and sustainable fuels, including the development and wider adoption of alternatives such as renewable diesel. 

Dayne Delahoussaye is the head of North American public affairs at Neste. He works closely with legislators and energy stakeholders to provide sustainable, advanced low-carbon fuels. Visit NesteMY.com for more information.


[1] U.S. Global Change Research Program, “Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States,” 2018, https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/ (accessed December 21, 2018).

[2] United Nations Climate Change, “The Paris Agreement,” October 22, 2018, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement (accessed December 21, 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] David Chazan, “Riots on the Champs-Elysées as ‘yellow vest’ fuel protesters march in Paris,” The Guardian, November 24, 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/11/24/paris-police-fire-tear-gas-yellow-vest-protesters-marching-elysee/ (accessed December 18, 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Nadja Popovich, “California Is Ready for a Fight Over Tailpipe Emissions. Here’s Why,” The New York Times, April 30, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/04/30/climate/california-auto-emissions.html(accessed December 18, 2018). 

[7] Union of Concerned Scientists, “Modernizing California’s Freight System,” 2014, https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/clean_vehicles/modernizing-california-freight.pdf (accessed December 18, 2018).

[8] California Air Resources Board, “California Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory – 2018 Edition,” July 11, 2018, https://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/inventory/data/data.htm (accessed December 18, 2018).

[9] California Air Resources Board, “CARB Amends Low Carbon Fuel Standard for Wider Impact,” September 27, 2018, https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/news/carb-amends-low-carbon-fuel-standard-wider-impact (accessed December 21, 2018).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow, “No more gas or diesel cars in California? State considers ban,” The Sacramento Bee, September 27, 2017, https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/transportation/article175740811.html (accessed December 21, 2018).

[13] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “U.S. households are holding on to their vehicles longer,” August 21, 2018, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=36914(accessed December 21, 2018).

[14] California Energy Commission, “Transportation Energy Demand Forecast 2018-2030,” Revised April 19, 2018, https://efiling.energy.ca.gov/getdocument.aspx?tn=223241 (accessed December 21, 2018). 

[15] Ibid.

[16] Neste, “With Performance So Powerful, Sustainability Is Just the Start,” https://www.nestemy.com/assets/media/pdf/Sutainability_RenewableDiesel.pdf (accessed December 21, 2018).