California’s Biofuels Policy: Yes, No, or Both

The Los Angeles Times‘ Judith Lewis relates an amusing example of how government can undermine its own harebrained schemes.

It was a fine June day in 2007 when a senator from Illinois, then a long-shot for the presidency, stood beside the pumps at Conserv Fuel in West Los Angeles and congratulated the heroes of the biofuel revolution. Conserv Fuel was one of the first fueling stations in the country to offer biofuel at the pump, and Barack Obama was looking to establish himself as an alternative-fuel-friendly candidate. He railed against the Bush administration’s oil-centric energy policy. He commended Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for establishing a low-carbon fuel standard.

That was then. But this is now:

I’d been a regular at Conserv Fuel ever since I bought the car, but on that June day, the station attendant tried to head me off: “No more! No more!” he shouted, waving his hands. When I got closer, I saw what the fuss was about: The biodiesel pump had a shiny new sign on it: “Diesel #2.”

The man pointed at a letter taped to the inside of the window. It said that Conserv Fuel would no longer sell the sweet-smelling, cleaner-burning fuel on which I’d come to depend. My local fueling station’s flirtation with biodiesel was over. I put enough stinky fossil-fuel diesel in my tank to get home and drove off, shamefully chugging soot all the way.

Conserv Fuel’s abandonment of biodiesel grew out of a June decision by the State Water Resources Control Board to begin enforcing laws against storing biodiesel underground. As commercial fueling stations have no economical way to hold fuel in tanks on the surface, the ruling forced most of the state’s retail biodiesel pumps to switch to petroleum or close.

One can only hope that this would lead politicians in California — and elsewhere — to abandon such schemes, but that would make too much sense. Now I just have to wonder what further intervention California pols will propose to “rectify” this. (Thanks to Margaret Griffis for the LA Times link.)

For more on ethanol and biofuels, see here.