In summary

We should not overlook the changes we can make to improve air quality immediately while working toward using alternative fuels to displace diesel and gasoline.

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By Mike Gatto, Special to CalMatters

Mike Gatto is an advisory board member of the Healthy Air Alliance and a former member of the California Assembly,

If we know a solution exists to begin cleaning our air while we work toward a zero-tailpipe-emissions future, then there is no reason to wait. The California Air Resources Board should work quickly to expand the availability of alternative fuels that can improve air quality to immediately move the state closer to achieving its climate goals.

Making biofuel blends more available for commuter vehicles will have an immediate effect on air quality in major transportation corridors. Reducing petroleum consumption cuts down on toxins emitted from vehicle exhaust into the air we breathe. This is based on solid data, which show that liquid biofuels were already responsible for 77% of total greenhouse gas reductions between 2011 and 2020.

Making alternative fuels part of the climate-change solution is smart, and offers immediate benefits. Alternative fuels, such as ethanol, which is made from corn, or biodiesel, which is made from vegetable oils and liquid animal fats, can be used alone or blended with gasoline. 

In an air board workshop in June, researchers at UC Davis’ Institute for Transportation Studies modeled a scenario that showed we cannot reach our 2045 goal of carbon neutrality with our approach of transforming our transportation fleet to carbon-neutral vehicles. The study called for more aggressive policies, including increased use of biofuel blends. The institute’s director, Lewis Fulton, expressed surprise that the clear need for alternative fuels to displace diesel and gasoline was not getting more attention.

Biofuels are easy for consumers to use. Common biofuel blends can contain anywhere from 10% to 85% renewable fuel combined with gasoline, offering increasing environmental benefits. They may not be flashy, headline-grabbing solutions, but the modeling illustrates why alternative fuels are vital to improving air quality and achieving California’s climate goals.

While some Californians can afford new electric vehicles, others cannot. In fact, even after the state-imposed income limits for the electric vehicle rebate program, the data show that most funds still go to buyers with annual incomes above $100,000. For the foreseeable future, less affluent families will continue to rely on used, older, fossil-fuel powered cars. 

That is a major reason why more needs to be done to begin immediately reducing toxic emissions at the source, while the more expensive alternatives remain out-of-reach for the most affected communities.

The air resources board has an opportunity to set up California for success by realizing that we can’t only have one technology or one fuel powering our vehicles.  Doing things such as making higher blends of biofuels like E15 (15% ethanol, 85% gasoline) available — a move that most other states have adopted — will further reduce the carbon intensity of our fuel mix. More renewable fuel in the gas tank will displace more petroleum and lead to a reduction in toxic fuel additives linked to cancer and unhealthy smog.

Californians should urge the California Air Resources Board to make biofuels available. Leaning more heavily on alternative fuels will be key to achieving our goals and delivering immediate improvements in air quality that all Californians can enjoy.


Mike Gatto has previously written about homelessness, clean air and PG&E.

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