Climate policy action: it’s happening in California

Green CaliforniaAs Americans voted in presidential primaries across the country today, few voters made their decisions based on the candidates’ positions on global warming. That’s because the leading candidates (McCain, Clinton, and Obama) all support a nationwide cap on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Only Romney is against a cap and his chances of winning are slim.

Whoever ends up in the White House, many political analysts believe that climate change legislation could make it through the next Congress and be signed by the president. This will be a huge milestone. But even a promising proposal like the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (pdf) would require a lengthy EPA rule-making process before GHG levels start going down.

Action on climate policy is further along in individual states. California has passed a law to cut GHG emissions and several regional alliances of states (e.g., the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for nine states in the Northeast) are working together on similar efforts.

Last month, I represented TerraPass at a state hearing on implementing the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which Gov. Schwarzenegger signed in 2006. More than 250 people showed up at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) event in Oakland to dig into the nitty-gritty of getting the law to work. I was impressed by the thoughtful way California officials are considering all viable approaches to hit the GHG targets: reducing emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020 (about 25% less than business-as-usual scenarios) and then 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

The state officials have completed a thorough baseline analysis of where GHG emissions originate in the state (e.g., utilities, manufacturing, transportation, etc). They have also identified voluntary, GHG-reducing “early actions” that companies and other emitters can take and receive credit for these reductions. And now they are figuring out industry by industry how to distribute the required reductions, which, in total, will get the job done. Both direct regulations and market-based mechanisms (e.g., cap-and-trade and offsets) will be part of the final plan.

Many industry representatives and staff members of environmental and consumer groups spoke at the hearing. People held different views on how best to write the rules. But nobody contested the fundamental goals of cutting GHGs. Once again, California is leading the way on environmental policy by designing an emission reduction program with a firm timeline for action decreed by law. Feds, take note!

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