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Calif. sets low-carbon standard for cars

New regulation, focused on "carbon intensity," is aimed at cutting dependence on petroleum and on boosting alternative fuels.

With the goal of reducing the production of greenhouse gases, California regulators on Thursday pushed the state toward the adoption of automotive fuels that use less carbon.

The state's Air Resources Board said that by 2020, the new regulation will staunch greenhouse gas emissions from California's transportation fuels by 16 million metric tons, or 10 percent, and will boost the market for alternatives to fossil fuels.

At the heart of the regulation is the concept of "carbon intensity," which takes into account not only the emissions associated with driving cars, but also the those gases emitted during the production and delivery of fuel. Fuel providers, refiners, importers, and blenders, the Air Resources Board said, will have to meet an average declining standard of carbon intensity.

Regulators expect the new standard to cut down on the state's dependence on petroleum and to push the market toward a range of alternative fuel technologies, including biofuels, electricity, and fuel cells. The regulation is geared toward replacing 20 percent of the fuel used by cars in California with clean alternative fuels by 2020.

Actions taken by California, which by itself is one of the world's largest economies, can have an effect well beyond the state's borders. The state has already set in motion an effort to impose tough fuel economy standards, which the Environmental Protection Agency shot down under the Bush administration. In January, shortly after taking office, President Obama applauded California's initiative and ordered the EPA to reconsider that rejection.

To help boost development of low-carbon fuels from sources including algae, switchgrass, and municipal solid waste, the California Energy Commission aims to provide approximately $120 million dollars per year over seven years.

The Air Resources Board said that to produce what it sees as a need for more than 1.5 billion gallons of biofuels, over 25 new biofuel facilities will have to be built and will create more than 3,000 new jobs, mostly in the state's rural areas.

The new regulation stems from a 2007 executive order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The transportation sector accounts for 40 percent of California's total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the board.