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Home arrow Blog arrow 9/28/06-California's war on warming

9/28/06-California's war on warming PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Martin   
Thursday, 28 September 2006
Governor signs measure to cap greenhouse gas emissions -- sweeping changes predicted in industries and life in cities
Thursday, September 28, 2006

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Wednesday setting California on course to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, a major political victory for the governor and a step that environmental and political leaders predict will have worldwide ramifications.

In a ceremony on San Francisco's Treasure Island with the city's skyline as a backdrop, Schwarzenegger declared the beginning of "a bold new era of environmental protection in California that will change the course of history" as he approved AB32, which calls for the state to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases by 25 percent by 2020.

The new law, the first of its kind in the nation, could lead to a dizzying array of changes in industry and elsewhere that will be seen in cities, on farms and on freeways.

During the next decade, state regulators could require more public transportation, more densely built housing, a major new investment in projects that tap into the wind and sun to generate electricity, millions of new trees and even new ways for farmers to handle animal waste.

Aides to the governor said he also planned to sign legislation later this week that will prohibit the state's electric utilities from buying electricity from high-polluting out-of-state power plants, a key step toward cleaning up the state's power supply.

Schwarzenegger put his signature on AB32 a little more than a year after he made international headlines by announcing that the debate over global warming was over and that California should act. The move sets the state on a markedly different path than the federal government -- President Bush has resisted the idea of capping emissions, saying it would ruin the nation's economy.

The president's warnings were echoed this year as major business groups -- many of whom are allies of Schwarzenegger -- suggested that California would send businesses scurrying out of state if it acted alone to limit emissions of greenhouse gases.

But on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger and others insisted that the caps would spur new clean-technology businesses and that other states, and eventually the federal government, would follow California's lead.

"You are showing brilliant leadership that will inspire people around the world,'' said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who predicted that the new California law would spur a larger global market that allows companies to buy and sell emissions credits. Blair noted the law could encourage similar laws in "states within the United States of America as well, and hopefully in time from the whole of America.''

Blair, whose country is part of the Kyoto Protocol requiring countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, was beamed in via satellite to the morning ceremony, a well-choreographed event that was duplicated in the afternoon in Malibu. With flags from countries around the world on one side of the stage, a vast lighting system and a giant video monitor displaying Blair and images of the other speakers, it was a Hollywood-quality production.

Joining Schwarzenegger was San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and New York Gov. George Pataki, who helped instigate an effort by New York and seven other Northeastern states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

California's law makes it the first state in the country to focus on all industries.

Schwarzenegger has built a double-digit lead over his challenger this November, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, and the signing of landmark environmental legislation was a big political achievement for the governor.

Polls show overwhelming support among California voters -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- for a broader government-led effort to combat global warming. Schwarzenegger further distanced himself from Bush, complicating Angelides' efforts to tie the governor to the unpopular president.

And Núñez, who is a co-chairman of Angelides' campaign, spoke at both ceremonies and gushed over the governor -- in two languages. He said Schwarzenegger showed both courage and leadership in setting the targets last year and signing the legislation this year, and then he reiterated the message for Spanish-language media.

When Schwarzenegger signed a copy of the legislation and handed it to the speaker, "Núñez looked so happy, like a little boy who had just been handed the biggest ice cream cone in the world,'' noted Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at USC.

"It's days like this when you have to wonder how Angelides gets out of bed,'' she said.

Despite a contentious legislative battle this year over the bill, the legislation leaves most of the heavy lifting to the state's Air Resources Board, which now is charged with numerous duties in achieving the state's 2020 goal -- a deadline that will occur long after Schwarzenegger and the lawmakers who voted for AB32 are out of office.

By January 2008, the board is expected to have developed new rules requiring most industries to report their current greenhouse gas emissions, a key first step. The board also must determine by that time the exact amount of gas that needs to be reduced; experts suggested it will be more than 170 million metric tons of gases.

That's more carbon dioxide than every car in the state combined produces now.

Other deadlines follow that, including creation of a fully spelled-out plan for meeting the target by January 2011 and enforcement beginning in 2012. The board also can consider implementing a so-called cap and trade system, which would allow companies to buy and sell credits for emission reductions, allowing one company that lowers emissions more than required to sell credits to another firm, for example.

Each step will involve public hearings and is likely to feature battles -- and litigation -- among regulators, businesses and environmental groups.

"In many ways, what was done this year was the easy part,'' said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club. "The implementation will be the hard part.''

The state had already begun to tackle global warming, and the track record so far illustrates how difficult hitting the reduction target could be.

A law passed before Schwarzenegger took office that requires automakers to reduce tailpipe emissions from cars beginning in 2009, which would account for a major portion of the new law's target, has been held up in court after carmakers sued the state. Trial begins in January.

Provisions of the new environmental law
Key points of AB32, signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger:

-- Reduction: California is required to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by about 25 percent by 2020.

-- Restrictions: The California Air Resources Board will develop a plan by 2009 outlining reductions that must be made by industrial sources such as utilities, power plants, manufacturers and cement makers.

-- Trade system: Regulators can develop a market-based program to help industries that might not be able to meet the new targets. The system could allow a California company to buy credits for emission reductions made elsewhere in the world.

-- Regulations: By 2011, the state air board is required to adopt regulations to meet the 2020 reductions; by 2012, it is to begin enforcing limits and reduction measures.

-- Delays: The governor can delay the cap deadline by one year in the event of extraordinary circumstances, catastrophic events or threat of significant economic harm.

-- In addition ... The governor has indicated he will sign SB1368 by Senate leader Don Perata, D-Oakland, which would prohibit utilities in the state from buying electricity from high-polluting power plants.

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