AB32 Goes Beyond American Power Act: A Correction

Last week I reported that a battle over whether to suspend AB32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction legislation, would be rendered “moot” by the passage of the climate bill now being weighed by the Senate, known as the American Power Act.

As it turns out, that was an exaggeration, a fact pointed out by both commenters here and at the NRDC. Please keep sending us your comments, guys!

AB32, also known as The Global Warming Solutions Act, mandates the reduction of greenhouse gases in California to 1990 levels by 2020. The roadmap for carrying out that mandate, known as the Scoping Plan, includes a statewide cap-and-trade program, which would indeed be superseded by the APA’s own national cap-and-trade program.

But the cap-and-trade system, which does not begin until 2012, is just one part of a plethora of regulations and programs included in the Scoping Plan. And the cap-and-trade portion would only cover about 20 percent of anticipated emissions reductions.

So even if Congress does pass the APA (unlikely, but who knows?) there are a lot of worthwhile programs under AB32’s Scoping Plan that would still be in danger should the ballot initiative to suspend it pass.

A breakdown of the other major sections of the Scoping Plan are below, along with their anticipated contribution to the total reduction in ghgs:

  • Cap and trade: 20% The California Air Resources Board (ARB) will finish development of the cap-and-trade program by January 1, 2011, and the program itself must begin in 2012.
  • Clean cars and trucks rules: 22% The first stage of these rules, which regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions for cars and light trucks through 2016, are stricter than recently-revised federal standards, but manufacturers may choose to comply with the federal rules instead. The ARB is working on even more stringent standards to begin in 2017.
  • Renewable energy standard: 13% California’s load-serving entities (basically, the utilities) must get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. They are supposed to be getting 20 percent by the end of 2010, but in 2009 the big three (PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric) were averaging only 15 percent renewable energy and are not expected to reach the 20 percent goal or the 33 percent goal, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.
  • Energy efficiency improvements: 15% Residential, commercial, and industrial energy efficiency improvements, across a range of categories (see the Scoping Plan fact sheet (PDF)).
  • Low carbon fuel standard: 9% The Low Carbon Fuel Standard calls for a reduction of at least 10 percent in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels used in California. Gasoline derived from oil sands, which require a great deal of energy to extract, would have a higher carbon intensity than a cellulosic biofuel, for instance.
  • Smart growth policy: 3% Senate Bill 375, an outgrowth of AB32, requires each of California’s 18 metropolitan planning organizations to prepare a “sustainable communities strategy” that demonstrates how the region would meet its greenhouse gas emissions target through more efficient and sustainable land use, housing and transportation. Since this involves long-term planning, its initial contribution to ghg reductions is small, but could be much greater over the long term.

One question still up in the air is whether the ballot initiative to suspend AB32 would suspend all of these provisions. Kristin Eberhard of the NRDC said that while supporters of suspension have said their goal is not to suspend the entire Scoping Plan, “the way [the initiative] is written it could be open to interpretation.”

A spokesperson for supporters of the initiative did not return requests for comment.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.