Western Governors to Speed Development of Alternative Fuels

February 27, 2008

Western governors agreed on February 23 to take action to speed the development of alternative fuels in the West. A resolution adopted by the Western Governors' Association (WGA) commits to the development of a regional framework for a performance-based greenhouse gas standard for transportation fuels, such as a low-carbon fuel standard. The governors will also work together to promote an analytic methodology for evaluating the entire lifecycle of fuel production and use in terms of greenhouse gas emissions as well as other impacts upon the land, water, and air. The initiative was spearheaded by the governors of California, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington.

Most other items in the resolution are optional, such as asking each governor to consider procuring alternative fuel vehicles for state fleets, ensuring those vehicles use alternative fuels, and creating partnerships between public and private fleets for procuring alternative fuel vehicles and alternative fuels. Governors are also asked to work regionally on issues such as alternative fuel workforce training, biomass feedstocks, alternative fuel infrastructure, and policies that promote the sustainable use of natural resources in the transition to an economy based on alternative fuels. The WGA represents the governors of 19 western states and three groups of Pacific islands: American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. See the WGA press release and resolution (PDF 60 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

The western governors' focus on greenhouse gas emissions from fuel production calls to mind two recent studies, published online by Science Magazine, that generally conclude that clearing land to produce biofuels generates more greenhouse gas emissions than is saved by the biofuel production. Researchers from the DOE Biomass Program and DOE's Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) took issue with the results of the first study, which focused on the United States, noting that the researchers used an ANL computer model incorrectly, overestimated ethanol production, and made conservative assumptions about corn yields. In a letter to Science Magazine, the researchers conclude that it is not clear what land use changes will result from increased U.S. biofuel use, and that a more scientific study of land use impacts needs to be carried out. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) also responded, noting that the studies say nothing about the benefits of today's biofuels, and instead use a number of assumptions to examine a "worst case scenario" for the future. See the abstracts about the use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increasing greenhouse gases and land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt on the Science Magazine Web site, the ANL response, and the RFA press release (PDF 93 KB).