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GUEST OPINION: The state's self-imposed fuel embargo

  • (LISA BENSON / Washington Post Writers Group)

Our family has been in the retail gasoline business for four generations. During that time, we’ve met a lot of challenges, not the least of which were the gas lines and odd-even rationing days of the 1970s Arab oil embargo.

Now we’re facing an embargo of another kind, from a source much closer to home. This time, the threat isn’t from Middle East oil sheiks but from Sacramento, in the form of the California Air Resources Board’s low- carbon fuel standard.

The low-carbon fuel standard sounds simple enough: Require refiners to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels over the next 10 years and increase the use of low-carbon biofuels and other non-petroleum fuels during the same period.

But it’s become obvious to all but the insulated people at the Air Resources Board that the technology and supply of biofuels and other low-carbon fuels are simply not available at the mandated levels. And there’s no back-up plan to permit the use of conventional gasoline and diesel fuels, creating an inevitable supply deficit — which could happen by as early as 2015.

A recent study concluded that if the low-carbon fuel standard goes forward as planned, almost half of California’s refineries could be forced to stop production. The cost of compliance could add up to a California-only $1.06 addition to the cost of producing a gallon of fuel (on top of the about 37 cents per gallon of unleaded regular above the national average that, according to the Auto Club, we already pay at the pump).

Our customers are painfully aware of increasing gas prices; even a penny or two makes a difference, and they’re not shy about telling us. We spend a lot of time explaining California’s significantly higher fuel taxes, higher cost of state-mandated boutique fuels and the cost of required equipment upgrades such as enhanced vapor recovery systems and sophisticated underground storage plumbing. Consumer frustration with this is understandably high.

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