Valley Voices

Valley must fight to remain a hub for clean fuels jobs

Huron resident Juan Castaneda used to jump to a new seasonal agricultural job every two or three months. After taking classes at West Hills Community College, Juan landed a job eight months ago with biofuel producer Biodico through the college’s Workforce Connection program, supported by the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board.

Juan now works to transform feedstock into clean biofuel. His new job is more “sustainable” not only from an environmental perspective, but also for his quality of life: Juan went from temporary, unreliable work to a full-time, permanent career with benefits.

Without California’s climate leadership, Juan’s story would not have been possible. It’s time we give more credit to the unsung hero of our state’s climate policies: the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). This workhorse policy – which calls on California to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels at least 10 percent by 2020 – has driven more than $650 million toward clean fuel production and increased the use of clean fuels by 36 percent.

It’s helped us prevent more than 16 million tons of carbon pollution and avert the use of over 6 billion gallons of petroleum. You would never imagine this policy would be considered for the chopping block, yet opponents are pushing once again to kill it. Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers need to resist pressure to destabilize California’s biofuels industry by adjusting or weakening the LCFS.

In early 2007, Pacific Ethanol stood with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he launched the LCFS with the stroke of a pen. At the time, Pacific Ethanol was building one of California’s four ethanol plants, all of which are in the Valley.

These facilities use products like corn, sorghum and even waste from wineries to produce ethanol. Pacific Ethanol is now the leading producer of renewable fuels in the West. Pacific Ethanol, Calgren and Aemetis, the three main California ethanol producers, seek to keep expanding with new facilities, but this won’t be possible without the LCFS.

As another industry leader, Biodico spent the past decades developing and patenting technologies and building sustainable biofuel refineries statewide, with a focus on the Valley. Last year, Biodico opened a liquid biofuel facility in Five Points to deliver biofuels for agricultural industry trucks. The plant converts used cooking oil, animal fats and vegetable oil into upwards of 20 million biodiesel gallons annually.

With the LCFS, we can think bigger, investing in research and development. Biodico just received a $1.2 million grant to create a replicable blueprint for energy-neutral farms in Five Points.

The “Zero Net Energy Farms” model will help farmers save money, reduce their carbon footprint, and conserve water in the face of drought. Using this template, farmers will be able to harness orchard and vineyard trimmings to provide heat and electricity to operate their farms.

Other local operations are looking to everything from sugar cane to sugar beets to help California branch out beyond petroleum. Aemetis is building a $90 million Stanislaus County facility, creating at least 1,000 jobs and improving air quality statewide.

At this plant, Aemetis will convert local wastes from agriculture, forests and dairies, as well as hazardous waste, medical waste, and municipal solid waste into ultra-low-carbon ethanol. The LCFS was the catalyst, ensuring a return on investment.

Without it, the project would be canceled or relocated across state lines. We have built our industry around the LCFS. State policies need to catch up with our businesses, which are already planning well beyond 2020.

California’s foresight with the LCFS positioned our state as a magnet for clean-energy jobs. As federal programs have been inconsistent, state policies play an elevated role in supporting innovation. Injecting uncertainty into a growing industry like ours, especially one creating jobs in some of the most polluted and vulnerable communities in our state, is shortsighted.

If our leaders use the LCFS as a bargaining chip, they are forfeiting a policy that has saved California $1.6 billion in avoided public-health impacts.

With the LCFS, we can ramp up the state’s biofuel production to meet growing demand. To uplift business, boost clean air and support workers like Juan, California must safeguard the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

Russ Teall is president and founder of Biodico Inc. Neil Koehler is co-founder, director and CEO of Pacific Ethanol.