ARB’s greenhouse gas plan raises questions among enviros, others

The draft blueprint released last week by the state Air Resources Board to curb California's climate-changing pollution is a worthy effort but has a number of weaknesses that could limit the landmark law's ultimate effectiveness, critics note.

As lawmakers prepare hearings this summer on the plan required by AB 32, the state's 2006 greenhouse gas emissions law, several issues are gaining attention.

One is the lack of attention paid in the document to land-use and zoning, which can play pivotal role in cutting commute times and, thus, reduce carbon emissions from cars' tale pipes. Another is the absence of rules for zero-emission vehicles-a thorny issue that has plagued the ARB for years. There is relatively little attention paid to emission issues related to landfills and recycling. And there is concern that the so-called cap-and-trade market system-in which polluters can buy credits or allowances to keep operating-may not work, especially if it's linked to a regional market with other western states.

"Its goal is to lay out all the issues that have to be addressed, and the scoping plan for the most part did that very well. It's a conversation-starter. But the blanks have to be filled in," said Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and co-chair of the Legislature's environmental caucus. "We're very concerned saying that we're going to engage in a trading system with the other western states, when those other states have no goals and have set no baselines. We should not be involved in anything that would weaken AB 32."

That law, originally authored by former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, requires California to cut climate-changing carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Much of the reductions needed to reach that goal-perhaps 60 percent-are obtained through other legislation. But the remainder will be covered by AB 32, which is the state's over-arching carbon-emissions law. Pavley also authored the earlier law, also a model for the nation, to cut carbon emissions from automobiles. That law is poised to take effect, pending permission from the federal government.

The 75-page plan is a detailed description of the climate-changing problems poised by carbon emissions and the actions the state can take to meet those problems. Those include requiring utilities to get more of their power from "green" sources, penalizing major polluters with fees to raise $50 million annually for administering regulations, requiring wider use of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, encouraging the use of energy-efficient appliances in the home and a number of other programs. The document calls for expansion of renewable energy programs, greater energy efficiency in buildings, low carbon fuel standards, greater solar energy use, among other things.

"On the whole, we like it and we think it is comprehensive in scope. But we do think the draft really needs to be strengthened before it becomes a final plan," said the Sierra Club's Bill Magavern. "The land-use area really needs to be made stronger to reduce vehicle miles traveled. We need to be putting our homes closer to transportation and public transit. We need more smart growth and infill projects, not suburban sprawl, which puts a lot of vehicles on the road."

Business interests, too, raised questions about the plan, noting that it was complex and difficult to digest quickly. Their most important questions involved the proposed cap-and-trade system.

"There is still a lot we don't know about it," said Shelly Sullivan of the AB 32 Implementation Group, which represents businesses and manufacturers. "We are encouraged that it proposes a cap-and-trade system that can deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at a lower cost to consumers. But we still don't know the details."

Those details include whether pollution credits-also known as "allowances"-would be given away or auctioned off, whether so-called offsets would be allowed that enable polluters to operate by investing in green power elsewhere and whether there would be a western regional market, rather than just a California market, for pollution credits and energy purchases.
The potential for a western market is of particular interest to businesses.

"It really needs to be the broadest market possible, it should not just be a California market," Sullivan said. "If you can go elsewhere in a broad market, it's going to help you meet your emission-reduction targets. It prevents leakage of jobs to other states. If it's only in California, what's to prevent you from going to Nevada? The market is critical."

For environmentalists, a key piece of the market is not its size as much as the money.

"The proceeds from any auction should go to clean-energy technologies and low-income consumers, and to public transit and to green jobs development," Magavern said.

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