- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It doesn’t matter where you buy it. It doesn’t matter what you drive. It doesn’t even matter which octane you choose. Every gallon of gasoline combusted in our vehicles emits a chemically consistent 19.4 pounds of carbon dioxide. Congress wants to change that — and it isn’t about to let a silly thing like fuel science stand in its way.

You’ve heard of cap-and-trade. Now meet the low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) — its younger, quieter but just-as-harmful kissing cousin. Cooked up in a California political laboratory over the past decade and being advanced on Capitol Hill by powerful members of both chambers, LCFS has as its goal to force refiners to start producing fuels with a lower-intensity carbon profile. Same price, same power, just with less carbon dioxide coming out of the tailpipe.

Who can be against that?

The laws of science, for starters. It turns out that, short of engaging in outright alchemy, tweaking the molecular profile of refined fuel products isn’t done easily, safely or well. But if an LCFS can’t actually effect a chemical change in the carbon makeup of our fuels, how can its supporters claim it will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit?

The answer is that LCFS isn’t about making the fuels on which we rely today better, cleaner or more energy-efficient. It’s about making those fuels scarcer, more expensive and less available to those who need them. Achieve that, the logic goes, and the alternative energy technologies that can’t compete right now — for one, because they don’t exist in commercial quantities, if at all — will have a fighting chance in the future of gaining market share from the reliable, all-too-affordable energy sources that dominate our markets today.



But, having established that an LCFS can’t simply decree low-carbon fuels into existence, how would a program like this actually work?

Here’s how: First, bureaucrats gather up separate samples of the feedstock involved in producing fuel — crude oil. Each sample is assigned a carbon score, not based on how much carbon is in the oil (remember, that’s constant), but how much energy (and therefore, carbon) it’s estimated was used to bring that oil to market.

Heavy crudes require more energy to produce than light crudes and therefore receive a higher (read “worse”) “life-cycle” carbon score. Oil sands from Canada and oil shale from the American Intermountain West are treated even more harshly under this system. And corn-based ethanol? The way the bureaucrats see it, ethanol is even worse than the rest because farmers in developing countries likely will have to cut down more of their trees to grow corn because Americans are using so much of theirs for fuel. Follow all that?

Once the carbon scores are tallied up, fuel producers are presented with a fairly straightforward choice: Stop using heavier forms of crude to refine into gasoline or start buying up “credits” from the federal government for the right to remain in business. Sound familiar? It’s the exact same transfer mechanism involved in cap-and-trade legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s also the exact same mechanism that will result in your paying a lot more for a gallon of gas in the short term and perhaps even losing your job after that.

But an LCFS is even more sinister than that. Consider: An LCFS, by definition, is set up to discriminate against some forms of crude and benefit others. As it turns out, the forms against which an LCFS discriminates happen to be the ones most readily and affordably available to us — homegrown oil from California and Colorado; Mayan crude from Mexico; and oil sands from Canada, our most important economic and strategic ally in the hemisphere.

Who’s got all the light crude — the kind an LCFS scheme is rigged to favor? The vast majority of the world’s lightest, sweetest crudes happen to be controlled by some of the world’s least reliable and most unstable regimes.

How would turning over an even larger share of our nation’s fuel and energy markets to Middle Eastern energy producers impact American national security? LCFS proponents don’t have a whole lot to say on that front.

The vast majority of Americans have never heard of an LCFS, just as its proponents prefer — and even the ones who have heard of it struggle to remember what the less-than-descriptive acronym stands for. Now you know: An LCFS means higher prices at the pump, fewer good-paying jobs for Americans, complicated Wall Street trading schemes and expanded dependence on energy from unstable regions of the world.

Sounds a lot like cap-and-trade, right? We’d be so lucky.

David Holt is president of Consumer Energy Alliance, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Houston.

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