Thursday, May 16, 2013

Experts Affirm the Benefits and Importance of California's Clean Energy and Climate Leadership

Stefanie Tanenhaus, MAP Energy Fellow, San Francisco

In the face of daunting challenges, California stands strong as a national leader on climate action, according to experts who testified today at a state Senate committee hearing on climate change and implementation of the state's clean energy law, AB 32.

Also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32 is California's groundbreaking effort to mitigate climate risks and lower statewide greenhouse gas emissions. Since its passage in 2006, AB 32 has kept California on course to build a robust, clean energy economy with the goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

California Emissions grapg_hearing blog.png

Source: Air Resources Board Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Forecast

Protecting Californians from Climate Risks

The Select Committee on Climate Change and AB 32 Implementation hearing today covered both the mounting risks of climate change in California and our progress toward mitigating them. Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird explained that while the impacts of global warming are already being felt in California -- with droughts, loss of snowpack and an extended wildfire season-- if we don't prepare and adapt, climate-related costs will continue to mount. Fortunately, California has the policy measures in place to curb emissions and help lower the costs associated with extreme weather and climate change.

Experts also testified on the link between greenhouse gas emissions and negative health impacts. Although carbon dioxide is the largest contributor to climate change, other greenhouse gases like black carbon and methane threaten both the climate as well as the quality of the air we breathe. Poor air quality puts communities at risk for asthma and other respiratory problems, low birth weights, heart attacks, and lung cancer. Many of the greenhouse gas reduction measures in AB 32 that target vehicle, power plant, and other industrial emissions sources simultaneously address both climate and health impacts for the state.

A National Perspective

To put California's progress in context, the hearing highlighted action beyond our borders. While California has led the charge on climate policies, other states have been moving forward as well.

For example:

  • Half of the nation's states now require utilities to invest in energy efficiency programs that help customers use less energy and lower their utility bills. California has been a leader on energy efficiency for decades.
  • Twenty-nine states have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards requiring a minimum percentage of power from clean energy like wind and solar. California has the most aggressive standard in the nation, but other states are quickly catching up. In the Midwest, Iowa's largest energy company, MidAmerican Energy, just announced plans to invest $1.9 billion to build an additional 1 gigawatt of wind power by 2015, which will produce electricity to power roughly 250,000 homes.

In the Northwest, Washington recently ratcheted down its Emissions Performance Standard (EPS), which limits the amount of pollution from power plants. Washington's EPS is now 12 percent tighter than the current California standard, making it the most ambitious in the nation.

Carbon Trading Beyond California

Cap-and-trade, a policy tool that gradually decreases the number of carbon pollution permits that are available to large emitters, is an important element of achieving AB 32's goals. California's program launched in January and continues to gain momentum, holding its third auction earlier today. Today's Senate committee looked at developments in carbon markets beyond California's borders. The nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states within the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) recently affirmed their commitment to cleaner power by voting to reduce their carbon emissions cap on the power sector by 45%. Across the globe, China is poised to launch seven regional pilot emissions trading programs it plans to link together in 2020 In total, China's programs will surpass California's as the world's second-largest carbon market, after the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme.

Progress on Reducing Emissions

Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board (ARB) that oversees implementation of AB 32, closed the hearing by providing a summary of California's progress toward reaching its 2020 emissions reduction goals. As the chart below shows, there has already been a steady decline in emissions between 2008 and 2011 from the facilities that release the highest levels of pollution in the state, with the added benefit of improving air quality and public health.

Thumbnail image for Facility Emissions_hearing blog.png

Source: ARB Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting (MRR) Data for In-State Facilities

As we move closer to meeting AB 32's emissions targets, California is upholding its position as a national leader in climate policies. In fact, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) - the federal government's energy statistics agency - just this week ranked California in the Top 5 both for lowest emissions per capita and carbon intensity.

To stay ahead of the curve, California must continue to move forward and build on its strong foundation of clean energy and climate leadership.

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