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California’s greenhouse gas plan

As smoke from forest fires filled the air in Sacramento yesterday, state regulators unveiled a long awaited draft plan (pdf) to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The fires — unprecedented this early in the West Coast summer — were a striking backdrop for the plan’s release.

TV cameras and a packed audience greeted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for the public presentation on how the state is going to implement AB 32, the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act. The plan calls for a mix of regulatory and market mechanisms to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 596 million metric tons (business-as-usual) to 427 million metric tons in 2020, or 30% from what would otherwise occur. The most important measures will:

* Strengthen energy efficient standards;
* Expand the state’s renewable portfolio standard from 20% to 33%;
* Develop a cap-and-trade program in concert with Western Climate Initiative;
* Implement the state’s advanced clean car and low carbon fuel standards.

CARB’s chair, Mary Nichols, is emerging as a hero in the fight against global warming. In just a year since Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed her to the hottest seat in state government, Nichols directed the talented CARB staff through a thorny thicket of political, economic, and environmental issues that could have buried a less capable leader. The result was met yesterday with generous praise from environmental groups and businesses alike. Most encouraging were comments from the venture capital community, which called the plan a guide to a clean-tech future for California.

Many details on the global warming law still need to be worked out. Critics in fossil fuel dependent industries are sure to press for exceptions and delays. CARB will hold a new series of public hearings on the draft plan before formally adopting it by year-end.

CARB board member Daniel Sperling, PhD, summed up the day when he said the state’s comprehensive, cost-effective greenhouse gas plan made him “proud to be a Californian.” Let’s hope this bright light in an otherwise smoky summer keeps shining through.

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