Environmental Law

Envt'l Law News Spring 2019, Vol. 28, No. 1

Bioenergy Is Crucial to Meet the State’s Climate Goals—So Why Isn’t California Doing More to Support It?

by Julia A. Levin*

Shortly before leaving office, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order calling for California to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.1 Scientists agree that achieving carbon neutrality will require carbon-negative actions—activities that remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit—to offset climate emissions that cannot be avoided.

Bioenergy, using the energy that is stored in biological matter, can provide carbon-negative energy while reducing the most damaging climate pollutants. It can create significant benefits for air quality, waste reduction, and forest sustainability while providing flexible generation, renewable power needed to complement wind and solar power. Bioenergy can also provide a renewable source of hydrogen and transportation fuels with the lowest carbon content. Not all waste-to-energy projects are environmentally beneficial, however, and some of the first-generation biomass projects have triggered legitimate concerns about bioenergy impacts.

In recent years, California has adopted a wide range of policies and incentives to promote next generation, environmentally beneficial bioenergy projects. Yet bioenergy development remains too slow to meet the State’s climate and air quality goals. This article explores the need for bio-energy in California, the policies that are driving and holding it back, and the changes needed to accelerate sustainable bioenergy development in California to achieve the State’s carbon neutrality goal.

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