Last year, New York State established the most ambitious climate goals in the country, including net-zero emissions by 2050. This means that in the transportation sector, which is New York’s leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, we have to completely phase out petroleum-based fuels. Reducing these emissions through mandates is difficult for New York: for instance, only the federal government can require new vehicles to meet higher fuel efficiency standards or ban the dirtiest vehicles and fuel types entirely. However, New York can require fuel suppliers to reduce their emissions through an innovative program known as a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS).
In an LCFS, every type of fuel that a vehicle could run on is given a score based on its carbon intensity. Fuels that are 100% petroleum-based like diesel and gasoline get the highest scores, while fuels like electricity—depending on how clean the grid supplying it is—get the lowest scores. Other fuel types, such as hydrogen and ethanol, are somewhere in between. Suppliers whose fuels are above a certain carbon intensity level are required to purchase credits from producers and users of low-carbon fuels. For example, a company that imports diesel fuel into New York might purchase credits from a local government that is using an anaerobic digester to turn food waste into renewable natural gas, or a company that imports gasoline might purchase credits from a public transit authority that has just put 20 new electric buses on the road.
California’s LCFS, which was the first of its kind in the U.S., has been very successful. Between 2011 and 2018, the LCFS reduced carbon pollution by 38 million tons and kept 13.7 billion gallons of petroleum from being burned. At the same time, the LCFS resulted in over $1 billion in societal benefits and created thousands of jobs. Since then, Oregon has enacted its own LCFS, and one is being considered by Washington State, too. An LCFS in New York can produce benefits by turning copious organic waste from food, farms, and wastewater into fuel and rapidly increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road.
Reaching zero transportation emissions will require federal action and a suite of policies including the Transportation and Climate Initiative, more complete streets with safe bike lanes, more housing density and walkable neighborhoods, and e-bike and e-scooter legalization. But establishing a New York low carbon fuel standard will be a giant step in the right direction and set an example for other states to follow. That’s why NYLCV is leading a coalition called Clean Fuels NY that is asking Governor Cuomo to include the LCFS in this year’s state budget. The time has come to take action on transportation emissions.