California Governor Surprises With Common Sense Veto of State Aviation Greenwash Legislation

In late September, just days prior to the end of the month and the subsequent closure of the 30-day period for the governor to sign state legislation passed during the recently ended session, California Governor Gavin Newsom surprised refinery watchdog and community climate activists with a veto of the bill AB 1322.

AB 1322 had proposed a ‘net zero by 2045’ goal for aviation originating in the state, with a heavy focus on a substantial mandate to expand production and use of what the aviation sector calls ‘sustainable aviation fuel.’ AB 1322 was intended to significantly expand the incentives under the California state administered Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) for these ‘drop in’ liquid biofuels, with a bold mandate that by the year 2030 a full 20% of the aviation fuel used in the state be qualified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as ‘sustainable aviation fuel.’

Among noteworthy items of concern, beyond the open ended approach to the massive scaling up of the emissions intensive manufacture of liquid aviation biofuels from high deforestation risk feedstocks like soy and canola oil, the bill had taken a controversial stance with the promotion of the much hyped but unproven at scale concept of making liquid aviation fuels from woody biomass. The language of the bill had required that the California Air Resources Board develop a methodology to arbitrarily grant a special lower carbon intensity ‘avoided wildfire emissions’ value to woody biomass feedstock (i.e. trees) extracted from forests for ostensible ‘fuels treatment’ or ‘wildfire prevention’ projects and then processed into a liquid fuel to be burnt by airplanes at high altitude.

As the example of Red Rock Biofuels has proven, the failures to successfully manufacture at any viable scale liquid aviation fuels from woody biomass feedstocks have largely escaped public attention and media scrutiny. Nevertheless, the veto of this bill certainly provides a fresh opportunity to examine the ample evidence about the dubious viability and elusive climate benefits of making jet fuel from forest biomass before making policy decisions whose ramifications have not been transparently reviewed and assessed.

Governor Newsom, by vetoing the bill, demonstrated a common sense that was missing from the legislature in regards this legislation, as the bill had passed with flying colors through the Senate, and then ultimately passed the Assembly by a tremendous 73-0 margin, with only little more than a fistful of the most obstinate and climate denying Republicans abstaining from casting a vote.

In his veto statement the Governor explained that though the administration might support the intent of the bill to advance ‘clean aviation fuels’ (a position we would very much like to discuss with the Governor when the opportunity arises) the pathway to earn credits from the LCFS for the manufacture of these types of aviation fuels already exists, essentially making AB 1322 redundant.

Biofuelwatch review of the committee analyses of the bill made available during the legislative process gives us reason to believe that one of the forces leading to the rejection of the bill may have been CARB advising the governor that the mandate of the bill was burdensome and would open the agency, and the LCFS, to unwanted pressure and grassroots attention.

However it occurred, the veto of this bill is a surprising and welcome demise for an aviation industry give away bill with opaque origins and a less than transparent and accessible deliberative process. The state can do much better when it comes to addressing the substantial and inequitable climate damage that arises from the aviation sector, beginning with accepting the need to constrain growth in the sector, reduce the number of flights, and to develop viable alternatives to air travel.

Living on a Land Constrained Planet

As the month of September ticked away, and activists anxiously waited to learn what the Governor was going to do about aviation biofuels and the AB 1322 bill, Biofuelwatch submitted a comment letter on an August workshop hosted by CARB to solicit stakeholder feedback on the possible options for upcoming amendments to the LCFS markets-based mechanism. Along with drawing attention to the recent passage in the European Parliament of a measure that recommends a total phase out of soy and palm feedstocks for liquid biofuels, the comment letter put attention on the ‘imperative to move beyond bioenergy’ and the need for deep structural changes in the LCFS to eliminate high carbon bioenergy from the incentives mechanism.

In particular the letter makes the point that “(P)ivoting strongly to convert emissions intensive petroleum infrastructure to function as emissions intensive bioenergy infrastructure will prove to be a climate dead end. To achieve the core objective of renewable energy policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to protect air quality, greater efforts are needed to exclude high-carbon forms of energy from climate action plans and incentives mechanisms. What is needed are policies to avoid infrastructure ‘lock-in’ and the extension of the economic life of toxic ‘stranded assets’ and to instead move away not only from fossil fuels but to also move away from land-intensive bioenergy.”

See the Biofuelwatch LCFS comment letter here.

Biofuelwatch will stay engaged on processes at CARB regarding the development of the 2022 Scoping Plan as well as the upcoming amendments to the LCFS.

For more background on aviation biofuels listen to the Biofuelwatch produced podcast for KMUD Redwood Community Radio: ‘Resist the Siren Call of Aviation Biofuels.’

See the brand new Greenwash Fact Sheet on Aviation Net Zero and Carbon Neutrality from the Stay Grounded network.