California prepares controversial new climate strategy – Advice Eating

in summary

A climate change roadmap, due to be proposed in May, aims to minimize costs while achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. Environmentalists say it’s too slow and relies on carbon markets and capture technologies.



California air quality officials have endorsed an updated plan to combat climate change, opting for a plan that aims to minimize job losses and costs while reducing greenhouse gases and achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.

California has long been a global leader in addressing the climate crisis, enacting aggressive legislation and policies to reduce its carbon footprint. But the state has recently come under fire from activists and some lawmakers for not acting fast enough and over-reliance on carbon trading programs.

The strategy, which staffers at the State Air Resources Board plan to unveil in May, requires a massive shift away from California’s reliance on fossil fuels and a greater emphasis on renewable energy sources. The plan, which targets an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by 2050, would cost an estimated $18 billion in 2035 and $27 billion in 2045.

California’s climate change roadmap – called the Scoping Plan – was first adopted in 2008 and updated in 2013 and 2017. The Air Board is in the early stages of its update. A public hearing is scheduled for June, while the board is expected to vote in the fall.

In the past year, the employees of the Management Board put four options up for discussion. At a workshop last week, Air Board officials said they will present the board with the option that has the least impact on the state’s economy, rather than accelerating the pace of achieving carbon neutrality.

Two of the rejected scenarios would achieve carbon neutrality ten years earlier, by 2035, but would cost six to seven times more – between $106 billion and $120 billion in 2035 Atmosphere removed as it exudes.)

Air Board officials said their preferred option, known as Scenario 3, focuses on countering industrial job losses and encouraging job growth as the state transitions to renewable energy. Scenarios 1 and 2 had the greatest impact on jobs and health benefits for people in heavily polluted areas. Scenario 4 had the lowest health benefits for communities and the third highest impact on costs and job losses.

“The faster you get out of combustion, the more health and climate benefits you have — we all know that,” said Rajinder Sahota, Executive Vice President for Climate Change and Research, during the workshop with industry representatives and environmentalists last week. “But the longer timeframe gives us more time to actually build that infrastructure and build those energy sources.”

Air Board officials said they would propose the option that has the least impact on the economy, rather than accelerating the pace toward achieving carbon neutrality.

The preferred option has drawn criticism from both environmental justice advocates and the oil and gas industry.

“We are gambling with the destiny of humanity,” said Kyle Heiskala, a policy advocate with the San Diego-based Environmental Health Coalition. “There is so much at stake here. We don’t have much time to get this right. We need to start reducing climate emissions now.”

The oil industry counters that the Air Board’s plan is overly dependent on the state’s zero-emission vehicle mandate and should focus more on policies that trade, remove and store carbon while enabling continued use of fossil fuels.

The scoping plan update comes as the extreme effects of climate change continue to ravage the state, which has been hit by extreme heat, record-breaking wildfires and a worsening drought. Emissions that warm the planet have dire consequences that scientists say will be irreversible if the world — including California — fails to meet ambitious carbon reduction goals.

California is responsible for less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but has the fifth largest economy and is therefore positioned to drive significant change.

How much the California Air Resources Board should prioritize any greenhouse gas reduction strategy remains a major tension for environmental activists and industry leaders.

Scenario 3, preferred by employees, relies more on carbon capture technologies than a more expensive option estimated to cost $130 billion by 2035 and instead involves a near-complete phase-out of gasoline-powered vehicles. Officials said their chosen scenario will rely on carbon capture, but not as much as two other scenarios that cost more.

Carbon capture is the practice of collecting carbon dioxide emitted by smokestacks and injecting it into the ground for long-term storage so it doesn’t warm the planet.

Carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and trigger changes in temperature, precipitation, and other aspects of the climate. The changing climate, as well as other pollutants emitted by fossil fuels, are disproportionately affecting low-income communities of color, according to a report from the University of Southern California. In California, the transportation sector is responsible for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Each scenario includes measures to make zero-emission vehicles mandatory, encourage the use of renewable biofuels and increase investment in carbon capture and removal technologies. Everyone is also weighing how phasing out fossil fuels could affect job losses and the health consequences of local residents living next to big polluters.

Environmental justice advocates wanted the committee’s staff to recommend a scenario that would include a complete phase-out of fossil fuels by 2045, without relying on carbon capture and storage. This scenario should have included measures to end oil and gas production by 2035 and phase out oil refining by 2045. Instead, they say the strategy chosen by the agency does not prioritize direct emissions reductions.

A debate over California’s landmark carbon market — dubbed the Cap and Trade — continues to spark controversy as the state formulates its scoping plan. The cap-and-trade system, adopted in 2013, puts a price on pollution. The market allows companies to buy some credits, called allowances, rather than hitting its limits by emitting fewer pollutants from facilities like oil refineries.

For years, environmentalists have argued that reliance on carbon markets and sophisticated carbon removal solutions allows the fossil fuel industry to buy its way out of emitting less pollution.

Heiskala said the Air Authority’s plan is setting the state back in meeting its goals by continuing to allow emissions from oil refineries and other sources of pollution, and harming residents living in heavily polluted areas.

“It’s just backwards,” he said. “The world is looking to California. If this plan is adopted, and it relies so heavily on carbon capture and carbon removal, the world will see that it is a viable strategy that effectively only delays action on climate change for decades. We just don’t have that much time.”

The 2017 scoping plan projected that cap and trade would account for 38% of the state’s emission reductions. Air Board officials have repeatedly said this year’s updated plan will scale back the role of Cap and Trade. However, it is unclear what weight Cap and Trade will have in the new plan.

“We don’t think the scenarios are broad enough at the moment. They are not looking for enough opportunities to achieve our goals.”

Kevin Slagle, Western States Petroleum Association

Kevin Slagle, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry lobby group, said oil and gas companies are supporting the state’s transition to renewable energy sources. But he said too hasty a transition could jeopardize the economy and residents who depend on the fossil fuel industry for jobs.

Instead, he said the Air Board should abandon all four options and develop a new one that relies more heavily on the carbon market, including capping and trading, to achieve carbon neutrality in the “least cost way”.

“We don’t think the scenarios are broad enough at the moment. They’re not looking for enough possible ways to achieve our goals,” he said. “There are many important aspects that need to be explored and understood before we can truly bet on an all-electric future.”

About 152,000 Californians work in the oil and gas industry, and another 366,000 others have careers whose jobs depend on the industry, according to a 2019 report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Industry in California contributes $152 billion to the economy annually, the report shows.

Air Board officials predict the job losses would have minimal impact on the state’s economy — about 80,000 fewer fossil fuel industry jobs in 2035 and 120,000 fewer in 2045. The country’s employment sector is expected to continue growing from 23.5 million jobs in 2021 to 27.7 million jobs in 2045.

The Air Resources Board “is so focused on the economy that it’s just willing to keep sacrificing communities for environmental justice.”

Catherine Garoupa White, Advisory Committee on Environmental Justice

Daniel Sperling, a member of the Air Resources Board and founding director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, said the oil industry can avoid economic losses by switching to cleaner technologies and sources such as hydrogen, biofuels and carbon capture.

“They are a strong economic force. You employ a lot of people. They play a huge role in California’s economy. That is our challenge – to lead the industry into a low-carbon future in the least disruptive way,” he said.

Catherine Garoupa White, a member of the state’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, which advises the board on the scoping plan, said the Air Resources Board is “so focused on the economy that they are fundamentally willing to continue sacrificing communities for environmental justice.” “

Despite opposition from environmentalists, Sperling said the proposed scenario is still a “very aggressive” strategy to reduce emissions.

“There will never be a scenario that makes everyone happy,” he said. “Ultimately, the scoping plan is just a plan — it doesn’t codify rules or new laws. We need to keep thinking about what actions we will take in terms of incentives and regulations.”

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