Testimony to City Council: Problems with Renewable Fuels

[Diana Meisenhelter testified to the City Council on February 15, 2023.]

Since many of us testified at the City’s listening session on renewable fuels, we assumed that would be shared with Council, but City claims are disconcerting. The approved Zenith LUCS arguments [see Land_Use_Compatibility_Statement_-22-182133-PR-_issued_10-03-2022.pdf – Ed.] are problematic given the facts on renewable fuels.

While the City’s intent in developing the fuels mix policy is understandable, choosing an emissions reduction strategy based on renewables is likely to prolong the transition to cleaner sources and there has been no phase out timeline adopted for the transition clearly needed to address climate.

Renewables will likely become a roadblock for those very phase out efforts unless City administrative rules provide preventative action. Increasing availability of diesel in various forms could lead to lower prices and increased overall diesel use. Shunting grain towards fuel production can raise food prices. Plus there is no guarantee that renewable diesel production will actually decrease petroleum diesel production, unless there is an overall cap on the total diesel allowed to be stored and sold for local use.

Renewable diesel is a very similar chemical combination to petroleum diesel and all the dangers are still there in terms of spills, fires, seismic concerns and pollution effects, particularly of nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide.

Zenith claims renewable fuels will reduce emissions by 80% but there is not evidence or proof of this.  From the scientific expertise provided by Dr. Richard Plevin and others, it is clear that the modeling around carbon intensity (CI) is problematic. The various models all have major shortcomings and often produce contradictory results. Given this, the choice of model ultimately determines the supposed CI values. The Oregon Fuels program the City is using was put in place before the intricacies of biofuel modeling were understood and national standards developed (plus there was industry lobbying which weakened it even more than the problematic California standards). Without controlling what feedstocks can be utilized and the fuels used in the hydrogenation process, as well as adequately accounting for land use change, renewable fuels could actually add to emissions or barely reduce them.

The Oregon Clean Fuels Program at best claims to only lower the average carbon intensity of fuel used by 10%. Most importantly, the carbon intensity numbers promoted in the City’s renewable standards only apply to fuels sold for local use and have little to do with the fuels continuing to be dangerously transported and stored by Zenith—either the fossil fuels continuing over the next five years or the renewable fuels they hope to export.  Along with an overall phase out plan, we should be banning exports of renewable and fossil fuels– both, when burned, add to the climate crisis. 

The City must stop falling for industry greenwashing, choose cleaner pathways, and electrification.

About Diana Meisenhelter

Diana Meisenhelter has been involved on the Action Team of XRPDX since January 2019.  She served on the Extinction Rebellion US National Restructure Working Group proposal for a year and a half.  Active in antiracist, social justice, labor, and environmental organizing since the early 1970s, Diana has over 50 years of experience in movements for justice.


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