California’s ambitious climate plans make ‘plenty of work for everybody’

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017

California officials late last week approved a regulatory roadmap for slashing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Due every five years, the state’s scoping plan serves as a rough estimate of how the state will reach its economywide emissions targets — 1990 levels by 2020 and 40 percent below that by 2030.

The California Air Resources Board predicts that “direct” regulations — including the state’s renewable portfolio standard; low-carbon fuel standard; and new rules to slash methane, refrigerants and soot from fuel combustion — will account for 62 percent of the cumulative reductions needed through 2030. The rest will be delivered by the state’s cap-and-trade system, a far bigger share than it currently contributes (Climatewire, Dec. 13).

That reliance on cap and trade drew criticism yesterday from environmental justice advocates and several members of the board, who said it could conflict with a 2016 law that requires the state to prioritize direct emissions reductions. “Cap and trade is one thing and direct reductions are another,” said board member Diane Takvorian.

The move comes against a backdrop of unseasonably ferocious wildfires across the state and, on the federal level, the Trump administration’s promotion of fossil fuels and rollback of greenhouse gas regulations. The board’s chair, Mary Nichols, said the scoping plan should serve as a bright spot amid a “gloomy” climate picture.

“Literally everyone around the world is looking at California,” she said. “Considering the gloomy news that we’re getting on a daily basis now about how much faster the global warming worst-case scenario is proceeding than anyone had thought early on, I think it behooves us to take a minute and say this is something really important and it’s good that we did it.”

“As 2017 comes to a close, the news from Washington and our federal government is profoundly discouraging,” Rick Frank, director of the University of California, Davis’ California Environmental Law and Policy Center, wrote in a blog post yesterday. “California, in stark contrast, remains steadfast to its commitment to environmental quality, wise stewardship of its natural resources and to leading by example in reducing the state’s GHG emissions and otherwise confronting the cataclysmic consequences of climate change.”

The agency also announced a new approach yesterday to cutting vehicular emissions through land-use planning under a 2008 law that sets regional targets for reducing emissions from passenger vehicles. Starting next year, CARB will increase targets for regional governments to achieve a 19 percent average reduction from 2005 levels by 2035.

Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission voted yesterday to establish a pilot program for utilities to buy gas generated from methane at dairies, in line with a bill passed last year. The CPUC, CARB and the California Department of Food and Agriculture will select at least five pilot projects to test dairies’ ability to inject the gas into utilities’ natural gas distribution systems.

“I think there’s going to be plenty of work for everybody for years to come,” Nichols said.