Despite Aggressive Policies, California Not On Track For GHG, Air Goals

Source: By Curt Barry, InsideEPA • Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Despite California’s pioneering and aggressive policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conventional air pollution, the state enters 2022 facing seemingly near-impossible odds of achieving its carbon-reduction targets and EPA’s legal mandates to attain criteria air pollution limits.

“[W]hile the state has delivered on many fronts, the hard truth remains that we are no longer on track to meet our forthcoming climate goals, and even state leadership has expressed concern that we are off track,” notes F. Noel Perry, founder of Next 10, a clean energy policy group, in a Dec. 14 introductory letter for the group’s 13th annual California Green Innovation Index, prepared by Beacon Economics.

While the latest GHG inventory data show the Golden State saw its second largest year-over-year drop in emissions since 2010, “our annual rate of reduction is still far from where it needs to be in order to meet our 2030 climate goal” of 40 percent below 1990 emissions levels, Perry says.

Moreover, “California’s rate of renewable energy growth has also slowed in recent years, while more natural gas capacity was added to the grid in 2020 than any other resource,” he adds. “Slow progress is being achieved in the transportation and building sectors as adoption of cleaner vehicles and building codes and technologies gain modest momentum. But at our current rate of progress, we would be hitting our climate goals decades late.”

The bleak outlook comes despite California and local regulators approving an array of policies, regulations and programs to reduce GHG emissions throughout the last decade. These include the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) low-carbon fuel standard, cap-and-trade program, vehicle GHG standards, and electric vehicle sales mandate and incentive programs; energy agencies’ renewable energy standard, new rules to cut oil and gas methane emissions, and programs to phase out natural gas; and agricultural departments’ billion-dollar incentive programs to slash methane emissions at farms; among many others.

Total GHG emissions dropped 1.6 percent between 2018 and 2019, which the Next 10 analysis says is the second-largest percentage decrease since 2010. But, “this achievement falls far short of what is needed to comply with” California’s 2030 GHG target, the group says in a Dec. 14 press release. “California must now sustain a 4.3% annual decrease through 2030 – a reduction that is more than 2.5 times greater than was achieved in 2019.”

If the 2030 goal isn’t daunting enough, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) recently directed CARB to lay out scenarios in its evolving 2022 GHG regulatory “scoping plan” to reach “carbon neutrality” by 2035, instead of a previous target of 2045.

The state “needs to achieve sustained reductions on a scale we have never come close to. It’s really a major test of our climate leadership,” Perry adds.

Renewable Growth Slows

In terms of energy, the analysis found that despite meeting California’s target of 33 percent renewable power by 2020, “the overarching trends within the state’s power sector – which has historically delivered the bulk of California’s emissions reductions – paint a worrisome picture.”

For example, the pace of California’s renewable energy growth “has slowed considerably in recent years, and in 2020, the state actually added more gas power capacity (1.5 gigawatts) than any other power source, including solar (1.3 gigawatts),” the group explains. “Electricity generation from wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydroelectric made up 45.3% of the state’s power mix in 2020 – a slight decrease from 46.3% in 2019.”

To meet California’s goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2026, the state’s share of electricity generation from renewables would need to increase by 2.8 percent annually, according to Patrick Adler, research manager with Beacon Economics. “But the percentage of California’s total power mix from renewable energy resources crept upward by just 1.4% in 2020 – driven largely by the retirement of older and less-efficient fossil fuel power plants, as opposed to the addition of new renewable energy resources. So, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

For transportation-sector carbon dioxide, California’s largest source of GHGs, emissions dropped by only 2.1 percent from 2018 to 2019, remaining at just over 40 percent of the state’s total GHG emissions, according to the analysis.

While the number of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) registered in California is growing, “the state’s gradual adoption rate is not keeping pace with what is needed to meet California’s target of 1.5 million ZEVs on the road by 2025,” according to Next 10. “In 2020, the number of ZEVs on California roads increased 11.6% compared to 2019,” but to meet the 2025 target, “the number of ZEVs registered will need to increase 18% annually – revised upwards from the previous 16.9% — amidst falling pandemic ZEV sales.”

Nevertheless, the analysts say that “major policy developments” in California over the past two years “could lay the groundwork for a rapid acceleration in the transition” to ZEVs. For example, Newsom last year issued an executive order setting a target of 100 percent new zero-emissions car sales beginning 2035.

Criteria Pollution

Regarding conventional air pollution, California regulators acknowledge they face monumental challenges in meeting federal attainment standards for ozone and particulate matter (PM) in the state’s most heavily polluted regions – the South Coast air basin and the Central Valley – even though some have deadlines as far out as 2031.

For instance, CARB’s recently released draft strategy for meeting those standards states: “Attainment is simply not possible without action by U.S. EPA and other federal entities to control emissions from sources under their respective authorities.”

As a result, California air officials are eyeing a host of new petitions to EPA for first-time engine and fuel standards and rules to reduce pollution from a variety of federally regulated mobile sources such as aircraft, locomotives and trucks, according to the draft plan.

“The federal actions for primarily federally and internationally-regulated categories or sub-categories include on-road heavy-duty vehicles, off-road equipment, aviation, locomotives, and ocean-going vessels,” the document adds.

CARB’s plan, once finalized later this year, will include additional measure details, measure timelines, emissions reductions commitments to attain the standards, and an economic analysis with the objective of achieving EPA’s 8-hour ozone standard of 70 parts per billion (ppb) within federally defined timeframes, the document says.

However, many experts say that EPA is unlikely to approve all the federal measures that CARB, the South Coast air district and the San Joaquin Valley air district say are essential to enable them to meet federal air quality standards by legally required deadlines.

In addition, officials do not expect to receive at least $5 billion in annual federal funding for incentives to transition to cleaner mobile and stationary vehicles and equipment, which the South Coast air district argues is necessary to meet its pollution attainment levels.

Projections that the South Coast will fail to achieve air standards in the coming years persist despite the district adopting some stringent new regulations in recent years, including a Nov. 5 rule requiring additional emissions controls on equipment that are expected to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution by almost 8 tons per day.

The rule’s NOx cuts are projected to make up 40 percent of the overall reductions needed by stationary sources to meet federal ozone standards by 2031, but officials say other district rules fall well short of covering the additional 60 percent needed for attainment — hence, their push on EPA to aggressively adopt new measures on federal sources. – Curt Barry (