Is Your Town California’s “Coolest?”

Let the Carbon Games begin: cities compete to cut emissions

Sacramento is one of the cities competing to be "Coolest California City."

We must’ve missed the opening ceremonies with the parade of flag-bearing competitors and giant torch-lighting — or maybe it was canceled to save energy. Either way, ten California cities are competing over the next year to reduce their carbon emissions.

Individuals, local governments and businesses will all be involved in the project, called the Cool California Challenge. The Cool California website has a carbon calculator, tips on reducing your footprint and links to rebates. Plus there’s a social media element, so you can envy, goad or cooperate with your neighbors as you see fit.

The competing cities are Chula Vista, Citrus Heights, Davis, Gonzales, Pittsburg, Pleasanton, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, San Jose and Tracy. Participants — whether they’re individuals, companies or other types of organizations — earn points by being more carbon-conscious.

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EPA’s New Carbon Rule Doesn’t Do Much in CA

California enacted similar limits to pollution from power plants in 2006

The EPA's new rule limits carbon emissions from new power plants nationwide.

The US Environmental Protection Agency will, for the first time, begin restricting greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. The EPA’s new standard limits how many pounds of carbon can be emitted per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. It doesn’t apply to existing power plants or to new plants that have already been permitted, and natural gas-powered plants should be able to meet the standard without changes. But coal-powered plants will no longer make the cut without adding carbon capture and sequestration technology.

This won’t have much of an effect on California’s energy industry, Dave Clegern from the California Air Resources Board told me, though he’s not complaining. “It’s always good to see a national standard, and we’re glad the EPA is doing it.”

Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a similar standard for power plants in California back in 2006. The state gets very little electricity from coal-powered plants, and the coal-fired power California residents do use comes from outside of California.

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A Different Approach to Tackling Climate Change: Sweat the Small Stuff

A new study recommends cutting soot and methane emissions to curb warming and improve health.

Methane can escape from mines, power plants, farms, and landfills.

Carbon dioxide is the primary driver of climate change, but it’s not the only one. Methane also contributes to warming. In fact, a single molecule of methane causes more warming than a single molecule of carbon dioxide does. But it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long, so a new study from NASA affirms what others have suggested for years: that cutting methane emissions would show quicker results than cutting CO2 emissions. The same goes for soot, also known as black carbon. Plus, cutting back on soot would put a damper on the respiratory diseases it causes, and capturing more methane, which is basically natural gas, would save money.

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California Stakes Out New Ground with its Latest Fuel Standard

The White House proposes a strict new national fuel standard, but California still leads the way

On Wednesday, just as the Obama Administration proposed strict new fuel efficiency standards for 2017-2025-model cars and light trucks, the California Air Resources Board leapfrogged Washington with its own package of regulations designed to further reduce emissions from passenger vehicles.

The proposed “Advanced Clean Cars” regulations package has four components, including a greenhouse gas emissions standard that matches the new federal one, which isn’t surprising since California played a key role in drafting the new federal proposal. Continue reading

International Agency Issues Dire Warning

Navajo Generating Station, near Page, AZ

By Susanne Rust

Just as the federal government released its annual index of greenhouse gases, showing a steady increase over the past 21 years, the International Energy Agency warned that we are on the path to 11-degree warming if we don’t curb emissions now.

“Delaying action is a false economy: For every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would be needed to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions,” the authors of the energy agency report wrote in their 2011 World Energy Outlook.
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New Federal Fuel Rules Expected Soon, California Poised to Benefit

Stricter fuel standards for cars and light trucks could bring tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the Golden State, one report says.

In July, when the Obama Administration announced a plan for strict new fuel efficiency standards that would require a fleet-wide average for cars and light trucks of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, the sustainable business non-profit CERES reported the move would create nearly 500,000 new jobs nationwide.

“The new jobs will be related directly to the auto industry, and there will be additional jobs because consumers will have more money to spend because they will be saving on fuel,” said Carol Lee Rawn, director of the transportation program at CERES. Continue reading

Should California Put Hybrids Back in the Carpool Lane?

You’d think that kicking thousands of solo drivers out of the carpool lane would make traffic move faster…at least for carpoolers. But you’d be wrong, according to researchers from UC Berkeley.

In 2005, California granted drivers of hybrid vehicles access to carpool lanes (regardless of the number of riders) as a way to spur adoption of low-emissions vehicles. But that program ended this summer, after critics argued that the 85,000 cars that had qualified for special lane access were too many, and all the new hybrid drivers were clogging things up for carpoolers. Continue reading

Climate Change’s Unusual Suspects

A rice field in the Sacramento Valley. According to NOAA, rice paddies are a source of methane emissions. Photo: Craig Miller

Despite all the focus on regulating CO2 as a way to combat global warming, a new NOAA study finds that to really put the brakes on climate change, the world can’t ignore the other greenhouse gases.

The study takes an inventory of non-carbon greenhouse gases including methane, which emits from landfills and farms, and nitrous oxide, which primarily comes from soil management and combustion. Per molecule, the study notes that these gases have a stronger muscle for trapping heat compared with carbon dioxide, but they don’t last as long in the atmosphere.

“This study looks at what would happen if society decided to go after the short-lived greenhouse gases, as well as CO2.” said Jim Butler, Director of Global Monitoring at NOAA and author of the study.

Short-lived is a relative term in atmospheric science. Butler said it takes decades for methane to fully run its course in the atmosphere, during which its potential to trap heat is much greater, even though its share in the atmosphere is pennies compared to that of CO2.

Carbon dioxide sticks around much longer, some of it for thousands of years, said Butler.

“CO2 is still the big dog in the fight,” he said. Continue reading

Cutting Emissions…With Car Insurance?

The “Pay As You Drive” approach to auto coverage could save some drivers money–and cut lots of CO2, studies say.

Los Angeles traffic (Photo: Gabriel Bouys)

Most car insurance is priced in the United States kind of like an all-you-can-eat salad bar, says Justin Horner, a transportation analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. You pay a set amount once or twice a year, and then you can eat one little salad, or you can totally chow down, making several trips back for more food, piles of cole slaw and jello threatening to topple from your over-filled plate. Either way, it makes no difference to your wallet.

And, of course, regardless of hunger level, it can be kind of tempting to go back again and again, just because you can.

On the other hand, if you get your salad at one of those pay-by-weight places, you’re likely to be a lot more discriminating about what’s on your plate. That’s how we buy gas, says Horner.

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Two-Year Drop in California Carbon Emissions

PG&E substation near San Jose. The drop in emissions applied to both power generated in California and imported from neighboring states. (Photo: Craig Miller)

If you’re ready for some good news on the climate front: California’s carbon emissions from power generation dropped in 2009 and 2010.

That’s according to a new analysis from Thomson Reuters’ Point Carbon that looked at power generated here in California, as well as electricity imported from out of state.

According to the report (available by subscription only), emissions were down 12% over the study period. Part of the drop, not surprisingly, was due the global recession and the state’s slowed economy in 2009. But the study found that even when the economy started growing again, emissions continued to decline.

Sound mysterious? Not really, according to study co-author Ashley Lawson. Continue reading