Why do far left climate advocates oppose the Clean Fuel Standard?
While most left-leaning environmentalists support the CTFS, some on the far left do not. I'll explain why they're wrong to oppose it.
If you don’t know what the Clean Transportation Fuel Standard (CTFS) is, check out the NMED website for a thorough breakdown.
Amidst voices for and against House Bill 41, the CTFS is moving its way through New Mexico’s legislature. The bill passed the House Energy and Judiciary committees along a two-party line - Democrats voting for it and Republicans against it - but there are three general political camps I have identified in the CTFS discussion:
Republicans and maybe a few rural Democrats (oppose the bill)
The left/center left
Most Democrats and environmentalists (support the bill)
The far left
Advocate groups like Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, The New Energy Economy, and No False Solutions (oppose the bill)
Of course, the lines are a little more blurred than this, but these are the three general groups as I see them. Out of these groups, the only surprising group to me is the far left, but maybe it shouldn’t be. While they are very progressive climate advocates - seemingly people who would support lowering the carbon intensity of transportation fuels - they’re also the most extreme in their environmental and social demands, and often not satisfied with incremental improvements.
After the bill passed its first committee, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported,
… some of the opposition [for the CTFS] came from climate change activists. Groups such as Youth United for Climate Crisis Action [YUCCA] argued provisions letting fuel producers and sellers obtain, trade and sell credits would just let them continue polluting.
“Carbon credits do not reduce emissions,” said Anni Hanna of Albuquerque. “In fact, they do not even compensate for emissions as they are advertised to do.”
Today’s post is about the environmental-political landscape in New Mexico, and how the far left’s opposition to the Clean Transportation Fuel Standard is misguided. Let’s dive in.
In general, this is how the three groups think about the CTFS:
The right says the CTFS would raise gas prices, in turn disproportionately harming rural, poor, and minority communities, and they say it won’t do enough to reduce emissions to be worth it. Many New Mexican Republicans in the legislature tend to admit they can see the “spirit” of the bill as environmentally important, but they then use mathematical and logical gymnastics to make misleading claims.
The left/center left is touting the CTFS as a way to, among other things, diversify the economy, create jobs, and protect our health and climate. They tout the fact that there is no statistical evidence that a CTFS would raise gas prices in New Mexico, and idealize the “green growth” economic aspects of the bill.
The far left, while being some of the most in-your-face environmentalists you’ll ever meet, opposes the CTFS. In fact, the environmental advocacy group No False Solutions has opposed the bill every year it has appeared in New Mexico’s legislature. Their website describes a list of common climate policies they claim are “false solutions” - things like carbon capture, dirty hydrogen, nuclear energy, and carbon credits.
Now, not everything they say is misguided, but a lot of it is only half-true or downright illogical. For this post, I’m going to focus on their opposition to the CTFS.
Their website details their opposition to credit trading schemes similar to the one found in the CTFS as follows:
One company or entity can buy a credit from another company that has supposedly reduced emissions by a certain amount in order to meet its carbon reduction targets, without actually making any real change itself.
Consider this diagram explaining how carbon markets work:
Looks good right? But now ask:
1. Could Emitter A have reduced its emissions to meet the target, but chose not to because Emitter B had some cheap credits to sell?
2. Wouldn't we have made more progress if both Emitter A and Emitter B had simply been required to meet the target and rewarded for exceeding it?
3. Who is measuring how much emissions were saved by Emitter B or other credit sellers? Are those savings real or just on paper? Many offset projects that sell credits are tree planting or conservation projects, which means savings are difficult to quantify and can be erased the moment there is a forest fire (not to mention that an oak tree planted today will take at least 20 years to begin absorbing the carbon it is projected to sequester). Other offset projects include renewable energy plants that are not in fact reducing emissions, but rather replacing energy that would otherwise come from carbon emitting sources. They should not serve as a license for industry to continue polluting.
4. Most importantly, what progress is being made here? Carbon offsets and credit trading scheme do not reduce climate changing emissions, they simply shuffle them around between companies. Only ambitious emissions reduction mandates can make a significant dent in the climate crisis that we face.
No False Solutions, in this excerpt, is referring to a broad range of ideas including conservation offsets, tree planting credits, Cap and Trade programs, CTFS,’ and other policies that shouldn’t be confused with the CTFS, but, often enough, they do confuse the CTFS for something that it isn’t. Either way, I’ll answer their four questions above as they relate to the CTFS.
Could Emitter A have reduced its emissions to meet the target, but chose not to because Emitter B had some cheap credits to sell? Yes, and as the carbon intensity standard gradually reduces over time, “Emitter A” (as the diagram above illustrates) will need to purchase more and more credits to continue emitting, but it will make less and less business sense for them to continue choosing this option - especially when there are cleaner, cheaper, and more energy dense options available to produce. The incentive for all fuel producers to reduce their carbon intensity is present right away and gradually grows over time, and the credits present an opportunity for clean fuel producers to earn extra income upon their sale - also attracting clean fuel companies and jobs to New Mexico.
Wouldn't we have made more progress if both Emitter A and Emitter B had simply been required to meet the target and rewarded for exceeding it? This question doesn’t make sense. This is like saying running two miles is better than one, therefor we ought not to run at all. Or perhaps they are proposing that we require all fuel producers to meet a certain standard and then we also “reward” them for it, but who do they think is going to pay for that reward? The proposed CTFS credit market will pay for itself through creditors and debitors within the transportation fuel market.
Who is measuring how much emissions were saved by Emitter B or other credit sellers? Are those savings real or just on paper? Many offset projects that sell credits are tree planting or conservation projects, which means savings are difficult to quantify and can be erased the moment there is a forest fire (not to mention that an oak tree planted today will take at least 20 years to begin absorbing the carbon it is projected to sequester)… Some of these questions will be answered during the rulemaking process conducted by the EIB, but in general, the New Mexico Environment Department will administer the program and credit market and will collect fees from market participants to pay for the administrative costs. The CTFS will not allow someone “growing trees” to sell credits - that would be an offset or Cap and Trade program, which this is not.
Most importantly, what progress is being made here? Carbon offsets and credit trading scheme do not reduce climate changing emissions, they simply shuffle them around between companies. Only ambitious emissions reduction mandates can make a significant dent in the climate crisis that we face. Emissions reductions is the progress being made. The CTFS wouldn’t “shuffle” carbon credits around between companies without reducing emissions. The gradually reducing carbon intensity standard equates to real emissions reductions. Per UC Berkeley, “California’s LCFS program has proven to be an effective way to begin reducing the carbon intensity of transportation fuels, incentivize production of low-carbon fuels, and generate revenue to spur additional investment in statewide low-carbon transportation fuel infrastructure.”
Now, the final sentence in No False Solution’s questioning reveals what they would prefer to a CTFS - “Only ambitious emissions reduction mandates can make a significant dent in the climate crisis that we face.” While I agree that emission reduction mandates should be constructed, they’re not the only way to make a significant dent in the climate crisis. We will need emission reduction mandates, clean transportation fuel standards, economy-wide Cap and Trade programs, active and public transportation, and much more to reach our emissions goals.
So why do they oppose the CTFS?
Besides their misguided expectations on what the CTFS actually is or isn’t, they don’t trust market-based solutions to do the trick. Decades of misregulated markets have gotten us into this mess, and they don’t think market-based solutions are going to get us out. While I see their point, they’re mistaken for not realizing the decoupling of economic growth and GHG emissions that is underway.
Opposing market-based solutions to climate change is opposing incremental progress. Fuel producers will still have the ability to produce dirty fuels, but they’ll have a few incentives to not do so - which is a step in the right direction. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. We shouldn’t forget that decarbonization is the main goal, and if we can muster it, job growth would be nice too. The CTFS has proven to give states who adopt it both of those things.
In summary, if you believe the CTFS doesn’t go far enough to reduce emissions, consider taking the small win by supporting it. If you dislike the CTFS because it resembles “green capitalism,” I might remind you that there’s no time to “defeat” capitalism right now, but we can tame it a little bit. We need emission reductions ASAP. The CTFS could help reduce transportation emissions as soon as 2026 by steering the economy in a cleaner direction.
New Mexico is not currently on track to meet its decarbonization goals, and the state only has one legislative session per year - it needs to be utilized. While far left environmentalists should continue to push our lawmakers to think bigger, they should consider compromising on policies like the CTFS that could achieve real results in the meantime.
In other news
New bills of interest to Complex Effects:
Strong Towns ABQ is up and running
Next meeting: February 21st, 6-7:30 pm - Humble Coffee Downtown
Most community-driven organizations start with a few local advocates and slowly grow over time - allowing the culture, organization, and mission to naturally develop. The ABQ Strong Towns organizers, expecting four or five people at the first meeting, were shocked when 70 people showed up to the quaint brewery not prepared to host a meeting of that scale.
Today, the chapter has a basic website, an Instagram page, a Facebook page, and a team of volunteers that aims to develop the chapter slowly and thoughtfully. On January 17th, the chapter held its second meeting at 505 Central Food Hall. Again, there were a lot of people, and the purpose of that meeting was to start developing the mission of the chapter. Given the high difficulty of developing a mission statement with 70 people, I think the meeting went pretty smoothly while being inclusive for all the voices there.
If you’re interested in being a part of this exciting new urbanist and sustainability group in Albuquerque, consider coming to the next meeting.