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Economy up, greenhouse gas down

A California industrial complex in action. (Photo: Tom Grundy, via Shutterstock)

California’s greenhouse gases declined even as the state’s economy expanded, according to state and federal agencies tracking the numbers.

State air-quality regulators reported this week that carbon emissions fell by 1.5 million metric tons in 2013, while the economy experienced 2 percent growth, greater than the national average.

About $900 million was raised in two years through the auctions, with the money used to pay for programs to cut emissions.

The Air Resources Board, which released an emissions inventory and related material, said the data came from several sources, including California’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Regulation, the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The ARB statement and links to the data are available here.  The California Greenhouse Gas Inventory and other items are available here.

California, which has the most aggressive effort in the country to curb greenhouse gases, requires carbon emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels within five years. Programs to reach that goal include the sale and trade of emission credits at state-sanctioned “cap-and-trade” auctions, in which companies can purchase  so-called “allowances” or “permission slips” to remain in operation as they ratchet down on their emissions. About $900 million was raised in two years through the auctions, with the money used to pay for programs to cut emissions.

Businesses have long complained about the cap-and-trade auctions, saying they forced illegal taxes onto businesses and hurt the economy, but the head of the ARB disagreed.

“This inventory provides convincing evidence that California can grow its economy and continue to fight climate change,” Board Chair Mary Nichols said in a written statement. “No longer must economic growth result in smokestacks and pollution.  California is on a sustainable trajectory towards a clean energy economy. ”

According to the ARB, California’s greenhouse gases rose during the 2000s, then started falling in 2008 as a result of the recession.

“The decline leveled off from 2009 to 2011 and increased by 2 percent in 2012, due in part to the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and a drop in hydropower generation,” the ARB said in a press release. “The drop in hydropower has now been completely replaced by in-state wind and solar power. The 2013 inventory shows a decline of 1.5 million metric tons in emissions compared with 2012.”

The state also noted that carbon pollution is declining. “Carbon intensity has dropped 23 percent from the peak in 2001, and declined an average of 1.9 percent per year over the past four years as GDP grew 6.6 percent overall during the same period. This demonstrates a decoupling of economic growth and carbon pollution.”

Per capita emissions also remain down. Between 2000 and 2013, they dropped from a peak of 14 tons per person in 2001 to 12 tons per person in 2013, a 14 percent decrease overall.

Emissions from most major economic sectors in California either declined or remained flat in 2013. Industrial emissions were about the same as in 2012, while the electric power sector showed a slight decrease from 2012.

“Emissions from the transportation sector rose by a single percentage point compared to 2012, but are still down 11 percent from the peak year of 2007,” the ARB said. “The main source of the rise in transportation emissions was the increased use of diesel by trucks. Transportation remains the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions at 37 percent of total emissions.”


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