The Biden Administration has issued executive orders focused on reducing U.S. carbon emissions, taken the first steps to re-enter the Paris climate agreement; and promised to put the U.S. on a path to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050. President Biden’s pledge comes after committees in both the U.S. House and Senate in 2020 also called for taking action to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
Our economy cannot achieve net-zero emissions in the next three decades without addressing transportation fuels. The combustion of fossil fuels for transportation is the single largest source of GHG emissions in the U.S., contributing nearly 30 percent of the total.
The United States already has a tool available to take meaningful action now to lower the carbon impacts of liquid fuels – ethanol. Today’s corn starch ethanol is shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 percent compared to gasoline. Proper accounting of soil carbon accumulation in cornfields will shrink the carbon footprint of corn ethanol even further. And using biogas for thermal energy or adopting carbon capture and sequestration technologies could make corn ethanol carbon neutral—or even carbon negative.
To allow for ethanol to live up to its full potential and further down the road toward net zero, policies like a national Low Carbon Fuel Standard or a High-Octane Low Carbon Fuel program will be needed in order to capitalize on its decarbonization potential.
While the RFS has created a durable policy foundation for reducing GHG emissions from the transport sector, complementary policies could deepen and accelerate the decarbonization of our nation’s transportation fuels. The following options would be most effective in the near- and mid-term:
- Adoption of the Next Generation Fuels Act, which requires a rapid but orderly nationwide transition to more efficient (higher octane), lower-carbon liquid fuels for combustion engines and offers other regulatory enhancements.
- Adoption of a national Clean Fuel Policy or Low Carbon Fuel Standard requiring annual reductions in the average carbon intensity of U.S. transportation fuels. Ensure the program is informed by the best available science and is truly fuel- and vehicle-neutral. Include incentives for farmers who grow bioenergy feedstocks using carbon-efficient practices.