California Passes New Plan to Hit Climate Change Goals

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By Carolyn Whetzel

California is counting on its greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program to deliver more than one-third of the emissions reductions needed to meet the state’s 2030 climate goal under a plan approved Dec. 14.

The 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan that the California Air Resources Board governing panel adopted at its Sacramento meeting charts a path to shrinking statewide emissions to 260 million metric tons by 2030. Statewide greenhouse gas emissions were 440.4 million metric tons in 2015, according to state data.

“This is a major step forward for us,” CARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols said following the 14-0 vote. “It builds on proven actions and presents a template for other jurisdictions who are also committed to preventing the worst impacts of a warming planet,” she added in a written statement.

To meet the target, which requires that greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 40 percent below 1990 levels, half of the state’s electricity must come from renewable energy, and emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants must be slashed by 50 percent. Buildings must be twice as energy-efficient, and the state must be well on its way toward electrification of its transportation sector.

Measures in the plan also aim to move the state toward its ultimate goal—a low-to-zero economy by 2050.

The plan had broad support from the regulated community, especially from the state’s oil industry. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. and Shell Oil Co. employees testifying at CARB’s public hearing thanked the agency for abandoning an earlier proposal that would have required refineries to be 20 percent more energy efficient.

State lawmakers agreed to drop the requirement to pass legislation that extended the carbon trading program.

Cap-and-Trade Concerns

Environmental groups were largely supportive of the plan but were among many witnesses echoing concerns in a Dec. 12 report from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office that warned CARB to update cap-and-trade program rules that permit emissions-allowance credits to be banked.

“We’re asking quite a lot of this program,” David Weiskopf, NextGen America’s climate policy director, said of the trading program. The banking rules could lead to an oversupply of allowances that may not reduce the emissions needed to meet the 2030 goal, he said.

CARB is planning amendments to the cap-and-trade regulations and will be reviewing the allowances banking and other rules, Rajinda Sohato, CARB’s assistant division chief of the program, said.

Environmental justice advocates pressed the agency for additional direct control measures to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants from industrial and mobile sources.

On Track

California is on track to meet its initial goal under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (A.B. 32), requiring emissions be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, or to 431 million metric tons, CARB said in the plan.

Under the 2017 plan, the economy-wide cap-and-trade program will cut greenhouse gases 38 percent by 2030.

Launched in 2013, the trading program sets declining annual emissions caps for oil refineries, power plants, cement plants, the distribution of natural gas and transportation fuels, and other large sources of greenhouse gases. Regulated entities comply with the caps by either reducing emissions or buying emissions credits.

New rules to cut emissions of methane, refrigerants, and other short-lived climate pollutants will provide 35 percent of the statewide emissions reductions needed, according to the plan.

Twenty percent of the emissions reductions will come from efforts targeting transportation and improved building efficiency. Another 4 percent is expected from strengthening the state’s low-carbon fuel standard and 3 percent from the state’s renewable energy goals.

The new plan includes a portfolio of measures and incentive programs CARB and other state agencies will oversee to squeeze greenhouse gas emissions every sector of the state’s economy, including agriculture and waste and recycling management. Another key initiative involves conservation and restoration of forests, grasslands, soils, and wetlands, all which store carbon.

More than two years in the making, the 2017 plan reflects newly enacted legislation extending the cap-and-trade program, requiring the state to address localized air pollution problems in low-income and disadvantaged areas as part its climate program.

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