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Ethanol lobbyists storm Sacramento

March 26, 2009 |  7:26 pm


     Ethanol investors met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week in an effort to derail California’s far-reaching proposal to slash carbon emissions from transportation fuels.
      The meeting, the latest volley in a national campaign against the California regulation, was attended by Silicon Valley mogul Vinod Khosla and former Secretary of State Bill Jones, chairman of the board of Sacramento-based Pacific Ethanol Inc. One participant, New Fuels Alliance lobbyist Brooke Coleman, said the proposal was based on “completely speculative” scientific models and would cripple the biofuels industry nationally.
    Environmentalists are alarmed by the mounting attack on the state Air Resources Board, which will hold a hearing on the rule in Sacramento today. "There is an all-out war by corn ethanol interests, and they are using scare tactics to get others on board," said Patricia Monahan, a vehicles expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The rule, which Schwarzenegger first proposed in January 2007, would be the first in the nation to restrict planet-heating greenhouse gases from fuel. It is an essential component of the state’s landmark global warming law, which would slash the state’s carbon dioxide emissions by 15% in the next 11 years. President Obama has called for a national low-carbon fuel standard.

    The Truman National Security Project, a Washington-based group, sent Schwarzenegger a letter this week from 66 retired military and intelligence officers claiming that the California standard would give oil “an unfair advantage.... It is a matter of national security, which is threatened by our reliance on oil,” wrote the group, which included former National Security Advisor Robert “Bud” McFarlane.
    However, at least one signer had second thoughts. Vice Adm. Dennis V. McGinn sent out a news release saying that “upon more careful research,” he found that the letter “missed the mark” and that the California standard should be adopted immediately as a model for a national standard.
   Former Gen. Wesley Clark, co-chairman of the biofuels association Growth Energy, has also led a charge against the California proposal, saying it would discourage the use of corn ethanol. The rule’s “indirect land use” provision unfairly counts the global impact of growing corn for fuel — factoring in the displacement of forests that would then be razed to grow replacement crops, for example.
   The American Farm Bureau Federation wrote Schwarzenegger this week opposing the rule and calling for “a level playing field” for corn-based ethanol. The letter says the model used to calculate the carbon footprint of corn ethanol fails to acknowledge that some will derive from marginal, now-idle lands.
     Air Resources Board Chairman Mary D. Nichols said the California proposal would favor biofuels over oil, “including just about everything but imported corn.” The rule would spur investment in low-carbon fuels made from switchgrass and other non-food plants, according to proponents.
     Nichols said that Pacific Ethanol’s Jones, a Republican, “has been unceasing in his efforts to engage the governor,” but the governor’s staff “have been completely hands-off.”
     However, Blake Simmons, an official with the Emeryville-based Joint BioEnergy Institute, said the governor “was open-minded” during the meeting. Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear would not comment, adding, "He meets with interested parties all the time on a variety of issues, but we never disclose details of private meetings."
      The air board is scheduled to vote on the regulation next month.

— Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger poses before an ethanol-powered vehicle in 2007, as he signed an executive order to establish a low-carbon standard for transportation fuels. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images