The Hillary Clinton campaign is looking to California as a model if she decides to scrap the nation's ethanol mandate to focus on low-carbon advanced biofuels if elected president.
Clinton officials met with the California Air Resources Board, the state's air regulator, recently to discuss alternatives to the Environmental Protection Agency's flagship renewable fuel program, the Renewable Fuel Standard, campaign officials said.
The Clinton campaign, however, said it is not eyeing scrapping the program in favor of a national low-carbon plan.
Reuters reported that the head of the air board, Mary Nichols, "said she discussed the state's regulations with Clinton advisers."
Nichols is a backer of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is California's fuel program that seeks to push the state's market to use gasoline and diesel equivalents that are lower in greenhouse gas emissions. The program has not been friendly to corn-based ethanol, which has been the subject of litigation in recent years.
Nichols told "Clinton's advisers they could avoid political backlash by focusing on other carbon-reduction strategies instead, such as expanding electric vehicle sales and cleaning up emissions from coal-fired electricity," Reuters reported. Nichols did not provide any further details on the discussions or what the Democratic nominee plans to do if elected president.
The Clinton officials who confirmed the discussions did not divulge details on what they are looking to do if the Democratic nominee is elected in November.
Transitioning the Renewable Fuel Standard to a low-carbon standard has been kicked around for years, but the EPA has said it would not invest resources in making the shift.
If Clinton goes the route of a low-carbon standard that nixes corn ethanol, it could cost her votes in Iowa and other corn states that support the EPA's current program.
The mandate requires refiners to blend ethanol and a variety of other renewable fuels into the nation's gasoline and diesel supplies. The EPA has struggled to implement the program in recent years, primarily due to constraints in the fuel system to absorb increasing amounts of corn ethanol without risking engine damage.
Heather Zichal, a former Obama adviser on climate change, told a forum in Philadelphia last week that she would "hate to see" the U.S. reverse the entire program and "throw the baby out with [the] bathwater." But she recommended that the next administration "look at some modifications."
She suggested finding a new balance between the program's support for corn-based ethanol and the newer, more advanced biofuels. She also said that "mandates aren't necessarily a perfect way to regulate."
Clinton said she supported getting the Renewable Fuel Standard "back on track" in a May op-ed published in the Iowa Gazette. She said the program must provide "investors with the certainty" while protecting consumers and improving access to higher-ethanol fuel blends, "and effectively drives the development of cellulosic and other advanced biofuels."