California plans to double down in fight against climate change

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 19, 2014

California is raising its game against climate change as the stakes get higher, girding for a long-term battle with carbon dioxide that will stretch through at least 2050.

The state is planning to bring more of its regulatory muscle to bear on greenhouse gases, working to set a “midterm” 2030 emissions target, and is preparing to broaden its focus on electric-sector emissions, transportation and short-lived climate pollutants, among other areas.The proposals are among updates to its climate change policies contained in a “scoping plan” set for approval next week. The document is the state’s official blueprint for tackling greenhouse gases, as set out in the 2006 law, A.B. 32.It sets the stage for a range of new measures, among them a new strategy for controlling the most powerful global warming pollutants, including black carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons, by 2015; a new framework for addressing electricity-sector emissions by 2016; and setting a concrete target for reducing emissions in the medium term around 2030, which will start happening later this year.

“I would say the commitment to expedite our work on the short-lived pollutants is the thing that’s going to turn out to be the most important,” the chairwoman of the state’s Air Resources Board (ARB), Mary Nichols, said. “We think we can find some measures that will achieve both air quality and climate goals.”

Meshing regulations for climate change and conventional air pollutants could help make the case for international action on climate, Nichols said. Countries with poor air quality, like China, could be persuaded to amplify their climate efforts, as well.

“This scoping plan clearly represents a much more comprehensive view of actions the state is taking and will take into the future to reduce its carbon footprint and also points to programs we will be initiating that are designed to help California engage nationally and internationally,” Nichols said.

The plan envisions assigning responsibility for reducing emissions to more than a dozen state agencies, stitching climate change further into the state’s overall policies. Several bodies, including the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator and ARB, are working on a potential successor to the state’s renewables portfolio standard, which is set at 33 percent by 2020. The new, “more holistic” policy would boost renewables while also encouraging utilities to work on energy efficiency, demand response, support for electric vehicles and other objectives.

Revenue plan includes housing, carbon sequestration

Overall, ARB says, the state will need to reduce emissions about five times faster after 2020 than it has so far in order to reach a target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. That is within the realm of possibility, the plan says.

“We need to meet strict, science-based targets not just in 2020 and 2050, but at every point in between, as well,” it says. “California’s leadership will be defined not just by its emissions level in 2050, but also by the pathway it takes to get there.”

The document also sets out some potential recipients of cap-and-trade revenue, which one state lawmaker estimates could reach $5 billion per year by 2020.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) went to Oakland yesterday to promote his own spending plan, which would devote more than half of the money to affordable housing and mass transit, including the state’s planned high-speed rail line (ClimateWire, April 15).

ARB’s plan, like Steinberg’s, suggests funding housing and other transit-oriented development and rail modernization. It also includes a much wider swath of potential recipients, like second-generation biofuels, carbon sequestration in forests and agricultural lands, and research and development into distributed generation, energy storage and carbon capture and sequestration.

“There may be some difference in emphasis on the rail projects versus other kinds of transportation investments that will probably get played up as being a big area of controversy, but I think it’s actually an area where there’s quite a lot of agreement,” Nichols said.

The scoping plan would have ARB develop guidance starting this summer on how to spend the money in accordance with S.B. 535, a law that dictates at least a quarter of the money go to benefit disadvantaged communities.