California Air Resources Board

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Reducing Emissions with Inflated Tires

The state Air Resources Board passed a new regulation this week designed to increase fuel efficiency and reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.  It requires auto shops to check the tires on their customers’ vehicles and to inflate them to proper levels whenever they are doing an oil change or providing any other service.

CARB estimates that if every car in California had properly inflated tires, the state could save 75 million gallons of fuel and reduce emissions by 900 metric tons. Continue reading

The Overspray from Prop 23

On Monday, US energy secretary Steven Chu became the latest high-profile voice against California’s Proposition 23, the statewide initiative to suspend AB 32, the state’s four-year-old climate strategy.

“AB 32 was a good bill and continues to have California in a leadership role in developing clean energy and the efficient use of energy,” Chu told reporters at a dedication in Menlo Park. “From the middle 1970s California played that role and it would just be a terrible setback.”

Last week the trend was given full voice by Mary Nichols, who, as chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), is charged with getting AB 32 fully implemented in the next two years, called Prop 23 a “very serious threat,” not just to the core programs of AB 32, but to an array of regulatory programs that support the state’s attack on greenhouse gases. Continue reading

California Slogs Toward Cap-and-Trade

Dispatch from the bureaucratic trenches:

A cloud settles over the state capitol. Photo: Craig Miller

Clouds linger over California's cap-and-trade future. Photo: Craig Miller

The notion may be losing momentum in Washington but in Sacramento, California’s Air Resources Board continues the trudge toward a carbon trading program mandated under the state’s 2006 climate law, AB 32. This week its staff held the latest in a series of public meetings to discuss “program development” and “allowance allocation.” The topic may be a certified snore for most people but the CalEPA auditorium in Sacramento was nearly packed with representatives from utilities, environmental groups, public health advocates and an assortment of other interested parties, many with diametrically opposed views of how carbon allowances should be meted out for trading.

One of them was Chris Busch of the Center for Resource Solutions, who gave voice to a contingent disillusioned with what they read as momentum toward giving away allowances to industry. Busch coined what was probably the phrase of the day, accusing the Air Board of some “creative re-framing” of how carbon allowances might be distributed. Environmentalists have been pushing for something close to a “100% auction” of permits, while many business interests are hoping to get them free of charge, at least in the early stages of the program.

To many in the room, the update from the Air Board staff appeared to indicate a drift toward free permits. The Board’s Kevin Kennedy stressed that the staff had never come out officially for a 100% auction and said they’re “taking a close look” at how best to distribute them. His colleague, Matt Zaragoza put it more bluntly, saying “We’re strongly considering the need for free allocations.”

Regarding the state’s plan to join in a regional carbon market with several other states and some Canadian provinces known as the Western Climate Initiative, Kennedy insisted that “reports of it’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” But when pressed on how many US states are actually prepared to move forward, he confirmed that only New Mexico is in lockstep with California. Arizona’s governor recently signed an executive order pulling that state out of the proposed regional carbon market.

Here in the Golden State, industry is still angling for anything it can get to keep emissions fees to a minimum. Some complain that valid considerations are being left out of the plan.

“A lot of us are producing products today that are very focused on energy savings.,” said Phil Newell, who heads energy and environmental affairs for Guardian Industries, a maker of “low-E” glass products which promote energy efficiency. Newell says that a system of traded carbon permits and offsets should account for the energy savings achieved by his company’s products. “Every time we use a unit of energy in producing a coated product, we’re reducing 500 units of pollution elsewhere,” Newell claimed in a hallway interview. “We need some recognition of that.” Newell said that without that recognition, the high cost of carbon allowances might force his company to shut down manufacturing in California. Guardian operates a plate glass manufacturing plant near Fresno.

The Air Board’s staff says it is pushing for a “design document” describing a plausible allowance system by mid-summer.

States Bridle Against “One-Size” Carbon Rules

Next week the US Senate will take the wraps off a long-awaited national energy and climate bill, which–even before its unveiling–is already making California businesses and regulators nervous.

Though exact language has not been revealed, the compromise bill reportedly includes sections that would nullify state and regional programs to regulate carbon emissions. That does not sit well with Mary Nichols, California’s chief carbon regulator. “When it comes to energy policy and the environment, one size truly does not fit all,” Nichols told reporters in a Tuesday conference call. Nichols chairs the California Air Resources Board, which is the lead agency charged with implementing the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2006.

The state has already invested three years and more than $100 million dollars (approximately $40 million per year, according to a policy brief issued last week by the state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office), laying the groundwork for sweeping new regulations, including a carbon trading scheme with several other Western states. The regional cap-and-trade program known as the Western Climate Initiative could also be jeopardized by the current Senate bill, though from most appearances, the program is already languishing.

Businesses also have much at stake. Jan Smutny-Jones heads the Independent Energy Producers Association, whose members generate almost half the electric power produced in California. “My members are making literally billion-dollar decisions about infrastructure that’s going to be around in California generating electricity or transporting electricity to customers for the next 40-50 years, and they kind of need to know sooner rather than later, in terms of what the actual rules of the road are gonna be,” Smutny-Jones told me in his Sacramento office on Monday. “Having the rules change is disruptive,” he said.

California Senator Barbara Boxer, who co-sponsored the first Senate version of the bill last fall, says she does “not support federal preemption” but also wants to avoid overlap between the state and federal systems. “It depends on how the bill is written,” Boxer told reporters at the recent state Democratic Convention. “I’ve had environmentalists say ‘Well if we do a trading system on the credits, we want one system, we don’t want two systems,’ so there’s some areas where it may make sense.”

Nichols offered little latitude in her remarks on Tuesday.  “We need to put down a marker here and remind the senators that they will not have an effective climate program without the states,” she said. “We don’t want there to be any room for doubt about whether states are permitted to do things that advance their economic and energy agendas.” Nichols cited large amounts of “green” venture capital flowing into California as fruit already borne by the state’s actions toward reducing carbon emissions.

The Senate bill is expected to be rolled out on Monday. Optimists are hoping that a finished bill could reach the Senate floor by June or July, according to a report from Reuters news service.

AB 32 and the Economic Road Ahead

87712532By 2020, California will see two million new jobs whether the state implements its climate law AB 32 or not, according to a revised analysis from the California Air Resources Board.

The report, released Wednesday, predicts modest growth in the state economy over the next 10 years, including growth of 2.4% in both personal income and gross state product with or without the law.

During a Wednesday conference call,  CARB chairman Mary Nichols told reporters that sectors where California is strong, such as renewable energy and informational technology, will benefit from AB 32.

“California is uniquely positioned to benefit because this is the direction in which our economy is going anyway,” she said.

Nichols added that industries heavily dependent on petroleum will also benefit, but that they will have to go through a transition.

“We will see economic benefits overall by 2020,” said Nichols, “but it will be easier for some than for others.”

The report was reviewed by the 16-member Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee (EAAC), an independent panel of policy, business and economic experts appointed by Nichols and California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Linda Adams.

The report finds that AB 32 provides, “neither a huge boost nor a major negative impact on California,” said Larry Goulder, chair of the EAAC and of Stanford’s Economics Department on a call Wednesday with reporters.  “These findings are not that different from other studies that have been done.”

The Air Board’s original analysis was questioned earlier this month in a report from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which projected a mixed bag of pluses and minuses, with a short-term negative impact on jobs.

CARB’s first economic projections were criticized by others, including UCLA economics professor Matthew Kahn.   Kahn said he is much happier with this new report because of adjustments made to the baseline scenario and because of the independent review made by EAAC panel, which he called a “dream team” of economists.  However, the report still falls short, Kahn says, because its macroeconomic approach doesn’t identify how specific industries and businesses will fare under AB32.

“The report released today is about averages. And where I think we need more research is in how individual firms will be affected,” said Kahn. “When I was in graduate school, I had a professor who used to say ‘if your feet are in the fridge and your head is in the oven, on average, you’re ok’ and I always thought that was a funny joke, but I think it’s apropos about California today.”

Also on Wednesday, Kahn published an opinion piece in the LA Times with co-author James L. Sweeney, director of Stanford’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, arguing that a study frequently cited by opponents of AB 32 is seriously flawed.  The study, known as the Varshney/Tootelian analysis, estimates that the law will cost small businesses $50,000 a year and each household $3,857 a year once the new rules kick in.

Opponents of AB 32 are advocating for a ballot initiative that would suspend the law’s regulations until the state economy improves and the state unemployment rate drops to 5.5%. It’s currently pegged at 12.5%, officially.

On the Road to a National GHG Auto Standard

Craig Miller

Photo: Craig Miller

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced Thursday that the state has fulfilled its part of the May 2009 agreement set between auto manufacturers and two federal agencies that will establish the nation’s first greenhouse gas emissions standard for cars.

The new regulation adopted Thursday contains what CARB spokesman Stanley Young called “largely technical fixes,” including a change that will allow cars that meet the federal standard in the years 2012 to 2016 to be counted as compliant with the stricter California standard.  (The federal standard goes into effect in 2012.  It differs from the California standard until the two reach the same levels in 2016.)

The California law mandating rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars, AB 1493, was passed in 2002.  Between 2005 and 2009, the state fought for an EPA waiver that would allow it to implement a standard tougher than existing federal rules. Last May, President Obama announced a national standard for tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases  modeled on California’s rules.  In June, the U.S. EPA  granted the waiver the state had long sought.  See the CARB website for a history of the struggles over the regulations.

CARB says that national implementation of the standard will cut 941 million tons of CO2 by 2020, compared to 793 million tons had the standard been limited to California and the thirteen states that had adopted California’s rules.

AB 1493 would not be affected by a suspension of AB 32, an issue Californians may be voting on soon.

Air Board: GHG Sniffers for Research, Not Enforcement

This tower in Walnut Grove is decked out with equipment to detect and measure atmospheric gases. Photo: Craig Miller

This tower in Walnut Grove is rigged with equipment to detect and measure atmospheric gases, monitored by NOAA. Photo: Craig Miller

A companion radio piece to this post aired on The California Report.

Scientists in California have begun setting up a statewide network of monitors to track California’s greenhouse gas emissions. Similar equipment has been in place for years as part of a continental network established by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But officials at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) say this new system will be the first of its kind.

“The unique thing about this is that we’re actually looking at the local emissions, rather than the global average, says Jorn Herner, who heads the Greenhouse Gas Technology & Field Testing Section of CARB’s research arm. “Nobody has done that before.”

Scientists have been systematically tracking atmospheric CO2 on a broad scale since 1958. California’s network of GHG sniffers will be capable of tracking CO2, nitrous oxides and other known greenhouse gases, and will initially focus on methane.

But CARB officials say the network is not part of a “Big Brother” strategy for emissions compliance. “This is initially a research project,” said Herner. He says the new network will provide a “second data point” to augment the state’s current method of estimating GHG emissions. Currently California’s current climate law, AB-32, relies on a “bottom-up” system of estimating emissions from individual sources, then adding them up to arrive at total emissions for the state.

“The modeling won’t tell you each individual source but what you’d be able to do is develop a gridded inventory. So you’ll be able to say in this square mile of land over here, it looks like emissions are much higher than in this square mile next to it.”

The greenhouse gas analyzers are about the size of a desktop computer. Photo: Craig Miller

The greenhouse gas analyzers are about the size of a desktop computer. Photo: Craig Miller

The Air Board has purchased seven “next-generation” analyzers from Picarro Instruments in Sunnyvale. Five will go to fixed locations, such as a tower on Mt. Wilson, above the Los Angeles Basin. The two others will be on “mobile platforms;” electric vehicles that can roam the state taking ground-level readings. The units cost about $50,000 apiece but Picarro executives say they are self-adjusting and require far less human intervention than previous models, which will ultimately make them more cost-effective.

Picarro’s CEO, Michael Woelk, says a nationwide network of 500-to-700 detectors could yield a comprehensive GHG map of the US with resolution down to ten kilometers (a little more than six miles).

If California regulators are successful at putting in place a statewide or regional cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, industrial emitters will have to pay fees for the carbon they pump into the air. Horn agrees that at that point, some kind of check on the current system of self-reporting will “probably” be needed, but, he says, “that’s not the goal of this monitoring network at this time.”

“The science is really young,” he explained. “We’re really just trying to find out the potential of what we can do with this network. How it’s used in the future is still up in the air.”

…so to speak.

This animation below shows the methane levels detected by a Picarro analyzer as it is driven from Livermore, CA, to Sacramento.

Committee: No Free Lunch for Carbon Emitters

California’s cap-and-trade program took another baby step toward fruition on Monday, with the release of the state-appointed Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee’s final report on implementing carbon regulation.

Stopping just short of recommending a 100% auction of emission credits, the report, which is non-binding and was written to help the California Air Resources Board develop an economically sound cap-and-trade program, advises the state to sell off the majority of its carbon permits to emitters — with a few exceptions. Industries that “rely heavily” on carbon-based energy or compete directly with firms that do not face carbon regulation, the report says, should be “provided with assistance” or given funds earned from the auction.

The report pointedly advises against handing out free permits to utilities. Although the state’s utilities will almost certainly pass increased costs onto customers, the committee predicts that the price spike will provide an incentive for Californians to start saving energy. The committee’s press release says the report takes a “household friendly” approach to cap-and-trade, recommending that at least 75% of the proceeds from selling carbon permits be returned to households through either tax cuts or direct financial transfers.

Even before the report was released on Monday, the looming possibility of a carbon permit auction was causing anxiety in industrial circles. The AB-32 Implementation Group, an organization that aims to protect California business interests, claimed last week that if the price of carbon is set to $60 per ton, “large employers could be subject to an ‘Auction Tax’ of up to $143 billion by 2020.” Environmental groups have been urging the Air Board to auction off all the carbon permits initially offered.

In a written statement, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger responded to the committee’s report, saying “the best program will be one that returns value to the people through tax cuts, rebates or dividends, and I applaud the Committee for recognizing those options.”

Here’s a quick run down of the rest of the report’s key recommendations:

Protect Low Income Households

The report recommends returning some of the auction’s profits to low income households, since such households tend to spend a greater percentage of their income on energy.

Invest in a Low Carbon Economy

The committee recommends that the state create an independent Investment Advisory Board to help make it reach its low carbon targets.

Simple Auctions

The state’s carbon permit auctions should simple and allow the public to sell permits in the auctions along with the state.

Sketchy First Look at California Cap & Trade

On Tuesday the California Air Resources Board put out a sneak preview of the carbon cap & trade system mandated by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32). Couched as a “preliminary draft,” the 132-page plan is intended as a broad outline for a final Cap-and-Trade regulation scheduled to go before the board late next year.

As such, the draft lacks a few key components, such as how many allowances the state plans to auction off to industry, versus give away. Air Board chief Mary Nichols says her agency is still waiting on recommendations from an expert committee on how to best handle allowances.

Environmentalists have been pushing for polluters to pay for allowances up front. In an email to me on Tuesday, in anticipation of the draft, Bernadette del Chiaro of Environment California wrote that her group is “slightly disappointed that ARB staff are punting on the issue of auctions. ARB in the scoping plan said they are committed to getting to 100% auctions. I hope the draft rules at least repeat this commitment.”

The draft appears to stop short of an outright commitment, reiterating that “transition to a 100 percent auction was a worthwhile goal.” In a conference call with reporters, Nichols said she anticipates at least a partial auction. Also undetermined is how to deploy the funds that emitters may pay for allowances. Nichols said a $10 per ton price for carbon could produce a two-to-four-billion-dollar pool of money, which could be used for such things as “buying down” utility costs for low-income families or creating incentives for development of renewable energy technology. Nichols declined to project what a cap & trade system would end up costing households in California.

You can download a PDF file of the complete report at the CARB website (under “What’s New). A public meeting is scheduled for December 14 in Sacramento, to get feedback on the Preliminary Draft Regulation released this week.

Also on Tuesday, the Governor’s Office announced that Quebec, one of California’s partners in the Western Climate Initiative for regional carbon trading, has set a target “to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and the introduction of a clean-car emissions standard equivalent to California’s Vehicle Tailpipe Emissions Standards.”

The WCI includes seven western states and four Canadian provinces. Any progress from the state’s WCI partners is welcome at this point, as most have been reluctant to set their intentions into law.

Check out our interactive map of California’s largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases.

California’s Biggest Carbon Emitters

Carbon addiction is the same as any other in at least one respect: the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. For greenhouse gases, reducing emissions requires knowing what you’re putting out to begin with.

The Conoco Phillips refinery in Rodeo, north of Oakland, is a relatively small player at 1.9 million metric tons of CO2 per year. Photo: Craig Miller

The Conoco Phillips refinery in Rodeo is a relatively small player, as refineries go, at 1.9 million metric tons of CO2 per year. Photo: Craig Miller

It was toward this end that this week the California Air Resources Board released the first comprehensive data on large-scale industrial carbon emissions in the state. Not surprisingly, the top emitters tend to fall into two categories: power plants and oil refineries, with cement manufacturers not far behind.

Individually, major oil refineries have the largest carbon footprint. Two of Chevron’s refineries–in Richmond and El Segundo, BP’s Carson refinery and the Shell refinery in Martinez, all clocked in at more than three million metric tons (tonnes), CO2-equivalent, for 2008.

Use the interactive map below, prepared by Climate Watch intern David Ferry, to locate the largest industrial emitters and see how they sort out by industry (We’ve been having difficulty with embedded maps vanishing from the blog, so if you don’t see the map below, just click on the link to it).

(Click here for a larger map and a list of all the largest emitters.)

View KQED: California’s Biggest Industrial CO2 Emitters of 2008 in a larger map

Cumulatively, electric power generation is California’s biggest emitter, despite the virtual absence of coal-powered plants in the state. The ARB report lists nearly 20 utility or industrial cogeneration plants in the million-plus club. Several plants put out more than two million tonnes, including Dynegy’s gas-fired plant at Moss Landing, the LaPaloma McKittrick plant, Southern California Edison’s Mountainview plant in Redlands, and the L.A. Department of Water & Power’s Haynes Generating Plant.

The federal EPA considers anything above 25,000 tonnes to be a large emitter. But with carbon emissions, “large” is a relative concept. California imports power from other states and we can get a clue to “large” from the carbon output numbers on some of the mostly coal-fired plants feeding the California grid from states like Utah and Wyoming. Some fossil fuel plants in those states weigh in at a hefty six, ten–even 15 million metric tons. Los Angeles still depends on out-of-state fossil plants for roughly half of its electric power.

A few large cement plants are also in the million-plus column. To find out why, listen to Amy Standen’s report for Quest.

Of course, all this careful accounting leaves aside the elephant in the room: transportation, which has a bigger footprint in California than all electrical generation combined, including imports from other states–and is about equal to total industrial emissions.

The industrial tally released this week is subject to revision and will be used to set caps and allowances for the carbon trading (cap & trade) system mandated by the state’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, commonly known as AB-32. There’s more on the emissions report and what it means in Paul Rogers’ story for the San Jose Mercury News.