California Air Resources Board

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Creeping Along Toward New Fuel Standards

(Photo: Craig Miller)

This week, California and federal regulators gave themselves a fall deadline in their collaboration to create national fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for model year 2017-2025 cars and light trucks.  The agencies say they will propose the new standards by September 1, 2011.

The September deadline is something of a setback for California, which had planned to release state standards in March.

Last October, the federal EPA and Department of Transportation announced plans to work with California Air Resources Board (CARB) to create the standards, under direction from the Obama Administration.   This builds on the agencies’ work setting the  new federal fuel standard, based on California’s, for model years 2012 through 2016.

According to a statement from CARB, a unified state/national standard will “provide manufacturers with with the regulatory certainty needed to invest today in the kind of new technologies that will provide consumers a full range of efficient clean vehicle choices.”

Tiffancy Hsu of the Los Angeles Times has more.

EPA’s CO2 Rules Old-Hat for California

A much-hyped EPA ruling to regulate greenhouse gases in 2011 doesn’t really change much for California.

A lot’s being made of the move by the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s move to start regulating greenhouse gases in the new year, but policy analysts are greeting it as a relative non-event in states like California (and Massachusetts), which are already moving ahead with their own carbon regulation strategies.

“It’s really a complement to what we’re doing with AB 32,” said California Air Resources Board spokeswoman Gennet Paauwe.

The EPA is acting in response to a 2007 US Supreme Court finding that greenhouse gases fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Air Act, and therefore are subject to regulation by the federal agency.

Critics of the EPA’s move, such as incoming House Energy Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich), say it’s a job-killer that will hurt domestic energy production. Other members of Congress, like California’s Barbara Boxer, support the EPA’s action.

The new regulations will affect power plants and refineries, which together produce about 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.  Starting January 2, industry will be required to consider new technologies and implement measures to mitigate greenhouse gas pollution for approval of new facilities and “major modifications” to existing ones.

“This is about taking a look at what technologies are available that can cost-effectively achieve reductions in greenhouse gases,” EPA assistant administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters in a recent conference call. “We set the standards, and the industry themselves figure out the most cost-effective ways to achieve those standards,” she said.

Vickie Patton, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, says a similar process is already in place for monitoring many other pollutants, and the new ruling simply adds greenhouse gases to the list.

Existing power plants and refineries will have to address greenhouse gas emissions, too, but not for at least a year.  Draft standards (providing details of the new rules) aren’t expected for power plants until July 2011, and December for refineries.  The agency says those standards wont be finalized until mid-to-late 2012 after a long period of public comment. By that time California’s cap & trade plan under AB 32 will be up and running, barring any legal delays.

The EPA says it will be up to each state to devise it’s own plans for implementing the standards.  And that’s where much of the uncertainly lies.  Texas has already refused to cooperate and sued unsuccessfully to stay the EPA ruling, long before the draft standards have been released or any formal process has been established for implementation.

“We’re really early stage,” said McCarthy. “I can’t tell you what types of reductions we hope to achieve. That’s all going to be driven by the technologies that come to our attention through the public comment period.”

Patton says that despite that state’s high profile objections, most states are on board with the federal process.

“Virtually every state in our country has rolled up its sleeves, prepared for this transition, and is ready to begin carrying out these protections to address global warming pollution, except for Texas,” she said.

Patton said that states like California, which has been a pioneer in both new technologies and in emissions regulation, will have “an important voice” as the standards are being developed.

“In the absence of an effective price on carbon or other incentives for industrial plants to choose clean technology, this is very important and useful tool to help the transition to clean energy and industry in California,” said CARB’s Paauwe. But once the AB 32 program is in motion, she said, this regulation could be redundant, as CARB hopes that the state cap and trade program as well as other market incentives will motivate firms to install the cleanest technologies on their own.

At that time, she said, “We can look at whether a separate clean technology process is necessary.”

It’s (Sort of) Official: Cap & Trade Is (Almost) Here

After a ten-hour hearing in which board members endured more than 170 speakers, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted to “endorse” a 200-page set of rules for what will be the world’s second largest cap & trade program (after Europe).

CARB is charged with implementing the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, which mandates that California reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  The cap & trade program is a key piece of the Air Board’s plans.

“It’s an exciting program,” said Board chair Mary Nichols. “It’s a very big step forward.”

Not that the job is done. Several facets of the regulation will now undergo a fine-tuning process, with another report back to the board in July of next year. Eventually it will find its way to the state’s Office of Administrative Law for review, and finally to the governor’s office, to be signed as an executive order. Continue reading

Lonely Road for Cap and Trade

California is the lab rat in the cap & trade maze

(Photo: Craig Miller)

One day after the midterm congressional elections, President Obama was already talking about cap & trade in the past tense: “Cap & trade was just one way of skinning the cat. It’s not the only way,” the President told reporters. “It was a means, not an end. And I’m gonna be looking for other means to address this problem. Senator Joe Lieberman put it more bluntly. “Cap and trade is off the table,” Lieberman said. “We have to start on the presumption that the table is clean, that nothing is on it.”

But while Washington is “looking for other means” to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming, the table is set for cap & trade in California. By day’s end Thursday, the state will likely have the nation’s first system that covers more than electric utilities. Continue reading

Poll: Californians Still Support Cap-and-Trade

A new poll shows Californians holding firm to their support of California’s climate strategy, including cap-and-trade provisions likely to be approved next week. The poll accompanies a sheaf of new studies commissioned by the pro-clean-tech think tank known as Next 10.

(Photo: Craig Miller)

The Field poll of about 500 Californians, taken right before Thanksgiving, shows two-thirds (66%) of respondents still favor (either “strongly” or “somewhat”) the 2006 climate law known as AB 32, including the cap-and-trade provisions (64%). About one in four oppose both.

The studies released with the poll point to an economic anticlimax under the cap & trade regulations of AB 32, with net benefits in the long-term. One of the lead investigators, David Roland-Holst, calls it a “small ripple in a giant teapot,” the teapot representing the massive California economy. A “synthesis of the findings” released by Next 10 shows a “very small” impact on the state’s economy, and “very small” changes in retail electricity rates. It also concludes that so-called “leakage” — the regulation-induced exodus of business from California is “likely to be small.” That’s not to say there are no losers. “We’ve got to be honest and say there will be trade-offs,” said Roland-Holst. Continue reading

Air Board Likely to Give Away Most Carbon Permits

California’s greenhouse gas regulators may ease the pain for companies under an evolving cap-and-trade plan.

Photo: Craig Miller

A staff report issued today by the state’s Air Resources Board provides the first details of how a state-run cap-and-trade program would work. As regulators had warned in recent months, it appears that most emissions permits will be given away, at least initially. Environmental groups had been pressing for a “100% auction,” making industry pay for all allowances.

But Jamie Fine, an economist with the Environmental Defense Fund in Sacramento,  says it’s not that straightforward. Fine interprets documents released today to mean that most allowances would be given away to begin with, but by 2015, with the gradual expansion of the program, more than half of the permits would be auctioned off. Continue reading

Reported Miscues at the Air Board

Today the California Air Resources Board announced proposed changes to the state’s “off-road” diesel regulation.  Adopted in 2007 the rules affect approximately 150,000 construction, mining, and airport support vehicles.   The proposed new rules delay the start of the regulation until 2014 (rather than 2010), increase the number of exempted vehicles, and relax some requirements.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the revisions come after the Air Board staff admitted to miscalculations that led to the original regulation.  According to the Chronicle, regulators overestimated emissions from off-road diesel vehicles by 340% in a scientific analysis used to set the 2007 rule.

Feds Float Future Fuel Efficiency Plan

Photo: Craig Miller

If, fifteen years from now, new cars across the country are getting twice the miles per gallon that they do today, California can rightly claim some of the credit.

On Friday the Obama Administration released plans for improving fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks for model years 2017 through 2025, with a final standard somewhere between 47 and 62 miles per gallon. The move builds on the new federal fuel standard, based on California’s, for model years 2012 through 2016.

California is scheduled to adopt its own fuel efficiency standards for 2017-2025 vehicles in January, said California Air Resources Board (CARB) member Dan Sperling, which is well before federal agencies expect to set a national standard.   CARB staff will release the proposed state standard later this year, he said.

“Presumably what California does will have a strong impact on what the U.S. EPA decides,” said Sperling, adding that there is a “a lot” of communication between the state and federal agencies. Continue reading

Tackling Greenhouse Gases from Cars

Photo: Craig Miller

California’s regional planning authorities need to find new ways to get people to leave their cars at home.

Passenger vehicles are the single largest source of greenhouse gases in California, comprising one third of all the state’s emissions.  Senate Bill 375, passed in 2008, is designed to chip away at those emissions by curbing sprawl and encouraging infrastructure that gets Californians to drive less — or at least, not as far.

This week the state Air Resources Board met a milestone (so to speak) in the implementation of the law by sending to California’s 18 regional planning organizations, greenhouse gas reduction targets for cars and light trucks .  Now it will be up to the regions to create their own strategies for linking land use and transportation planning in ways that lure Californians out of their cars. Continue reading

California: The “Solar Saudi Arabia”

At solar-thermal plants, mirrors concentrate solar energy on a central tower, where steam is generated to run turbines. (Image: BrightSource Energy)

Prepare for a solar building boom in the deserts of Southern California. After spending years in the environmental review process and clearing other bureaucratic hurdles, approvals for clean energy producers are picking up steam.

State regulators have now given the green light to four major solar power projects in as many weeks. The most recent was on Wednesday, when the California Energy Commission gave the nod to a 370-megawatt solar-thermal array known as the Ivanpah project (the CEC does not have authority over photovoltaic or “PV” solar arrays). Developed by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy and built by Bechtel Corp., it will consume more than 3,500 acres near the California-Nevada border, in the northern Mojave Desert. Continue reading