California’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Back on Track — For Now

But the courts aren’t finished with the next big piece of the state’s AB 32 climate strategy

By Thibault Worth

California aims to cut the carbon content of fuels by 10%.

First it was go. Then it was stop. Now, it’s go again.

As of Monday, California’s groundbreaking Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) was back on track for implementation after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of an injunction against an earlier lower court ruling.

In a statement, the state’s Air Resources Board, which is responsible for the regulation, said the court’s decision would allow California to “continue implementation and resume enforcement of this important program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” [full statement PDF] Continue reading

California Delays First Cap & Trade Permit Auction

State will start with a dry run while questions remain about how to spend the money

Starting next year, industries will have to track their greenhouse gas emissions and some will have to pay for carbon pollution rights.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (ARB) announced at a state senate hearing that the first carbon permit auction will be pushed back to November 14th.

The surprise announcement came at a hearing called to discuss what to do with proceeds from the sale of permits to emit greenhouse gases, the first of which is expected to flow into state coffers late this year.

Nichols’ announcement stole the headlines, though she said that the new auction date will not affect the overall timeline for implementation and that August will now be a “practice auction.”

“We’ll give everybody a free round in August where the auction won’t really count,” Nichol told me. “So that gives all the stakeholders, including of course, all the companies that are going to have to be purchasing allowances at the beginning an opportunity to see how the system will actually work.” Continue reading

California Holds Lead in Clean Car Derby

Air Board adopts landmark rules to curb emissions

The California Air Resources Board has unanimously approved sweeping new rules designed to facilitate the transition from gasoline-powered to electric and hydrogen-powered cars. By 2025, automakers are now required to produce 1.4 million “zero-emission” vehicles for the California market, a number that would make clean cars 15 percent of  all new car and truck sales.

A Nissan all-electric Leaf in San Francisco.

The rules also require automakers, by 2025, to halve greenhouse gas emissions emanating from vehicle tailpipes, compared to current levels. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is considering similar emissions rules, as well as a new fuel economy standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

State regulators hope the new rules will lead to the widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles, which they say is critical for meeting California’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. That goal was established by executive order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger, and goes beyond the cuts mandated by California’s landmark  global warming law, AB 32. Continue reading

California Expects $1 Billion From Carbon Trading

And that’s just for starters — but how that money will be spent is still up in the air

California's cap and trade program will kick into gear when the state holds its first emissions allowance auction, in August.

There might be more money in the first year of California’s cap-and-trade program than expected. Governor Brown’s 2012-2013 budget includes $1 billion in revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program, ramping up this year as part of California’s 2006 climate legislation, known as AB 32.

That might seem surprising since 90% of initial permits to emit greenhouse gases will be given away to industry. But number-crunchers at the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) say that selling just ten percent of allowances at auction could generate that much cash. The price for an emission allowance has not been set, but projections range from $10-$40 per credit, which means that the state might garner even more than $1 billion in the bargain. Continue reading

House Member Says Air Board Tried to “Mislead Congress”

Mary Nichols chairs the California Air Resources Board.

ARB’s response to inquiry wasn’t what Orange County Republican had in mind

Orange County Republican Darrell Issa says he remains “deeply troubled” by what he calls a “lack of candor” & “internal inconsistencies” in the California Air Resource Board’s (ARB) response to his November 9th letter probing negotiations toward a new national fuel economy standard. (You can read my original post on Rep. Issa’s and Nichols first round of correspondence here.)

Issa now charges that the initial response from ARB Chair Mary Nichols “appear[s] to be a deliberate attempt to mislead Congress and obstruct an official investigation.” Continue reading

Climate Study Predicts Deadly Heat for Older Californians

California’s heat waves are going to be getting longer and hotter in the coming decades, according to a new climate modeling study commissioned by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the EPA. The authors predict that heat-related deaths among California’s 65-and-over population could spike more than nine-fold by 2090. According to the study, currently more than 500 elderly people die annually from heat-related causes.

Using IPCC climate projections, the study models how climate change will impact California up and down the coast, including coastal cities like San Francisco and inland cities such as Riverside and Fresno.

Lead author Scott Sheridan, a geographer at Kent State University, says that the projected increase in heat-related deaths among those 65 and over are due in part to physiological reasons, but also to growing population size of this age group. By the end of the century, he says, the state’s population of people in this age bracket will increase from 4 million to 15.7 million. Sheridan says California communities that are already used to dealing with hotter temperatures, like the inland city of Fresno, may be better prepared to deal with the heat than relatively cooler coastal cities. Continue reading

Air Board Hands in its Homework

Issues court-ordered do-over of alternatives to cap & trade

In response to a court ruling (which it’s still appealing), the California Air Resources Board today issued a new analysis of its proposed carbon trading program, weighed against several alternative means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil refineries are among California's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. (Photo: Craig Miller)The fresh look includes the original five options, including cap & trade and the option of doing nothing at all. It does not add any new options but rather seeks to flesh out the other three. The non-trading options include regulating emissions at the source, implementing a straight-up tax on carbon emissions, and a mixed bag of actions. The reworked analysis expands discussion of those three alternatives from a few pages to more than 60. It will be up to the courts to decide whether the extra paper carries enough substance with it to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. Continue reading

Air Board Chief One-on-One

My experiment in audience participation falls short

I had the chance to sit down for a few minutes with California’s top air regulator today. Mary Nichols, who chairs the state’s Air Resources Board joined us by satellite from Sacramento. The seven-minute interview will air on KQED’s This Week in Northern California, Friday evening.

Nichols after a day-long public hearing in December of last year. (Photo: Craig Miller)

On Wednesday, blogger Jon Brooks posted a call for questions on “News Fix,” the KQED News blog. It was a worthwhile experiment but the results speak to the extent to which Nichols has become a lightning rod for opponents of environmental regulation in general and cap & trade in particular — and to some degree the state of public policy discourse in America today. The comments, some emailed and some posted on the comments thread at News Fix were largely a stream of invective directed at Nichols and the Air Board. Some questions were a bit technical for a seven-minute TV interview. Others were valid but off-topic. As the latest installment in our series of “Climate Watch Conversations,” I tried to keep to the climate-related business of the Board (with one exception: I felt I needed to have her address events unfolding in Japan and concerns here about radioactive drift).

Nonetheless I was able to cull a few for this brief interview. Continue reading