SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California on Thursday adopted
the nation's most sweeping
|Solar Panels are seen outside
the offices of the Sacramento Municipal Utility
District in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, Dec.
10, 2008. California air regulators plan to
meet Thursday to consider the nation's most
sweeping plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,
one that will transform how people travel, utilities
generate power and businesses use electricity.
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, issuing
rules that could transform everything from the way
factories operate to the appliances people buy and
the fuel they put in their cars.
The Air Resources Board unanimously approved the
plan despite warnings it will put costly new burdens
on businesses at a time when the economy is in extreme
crisis, with California forecasting a staggering
budget gap of $41.8 billion through mid-2010.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he believes
the regulations will spur the state's economy and
serve as a model for the rest of the country.
"When you look at today's depressed economy, green
tech is one of the few bright spots out there, which
is yet another reason we should move forward on
our environmental goals," Schwarzenegger said in
The strategy relies on 31 new rules affecting all
facets of life, including where people may build
their homes and what materials they use to do it.
One central piece is a cap-and-trade program, set
to begin in 2012, under which power plants, refineries
and big factories will be able to buy and sell the
right to emit heat-trapping gases. The program could
give plant operators a financial incentive to reduce
their carbon emissions.
Air regulators said the average Californian could
see more fuel-efficient cars and plug-in hybrids
on showroom floors; better public transportation;
housing nearer to schools and businesses; and utility
rebates to make their homes more energy-efficient.
But there will also be costs: Cars could become
more expensive, and Californians can expect higher
electric rates as utilities increase their use of
renewable energy. Homes built with energy-efficient
materials could also prove more costly, as could
gasoline reformulated to release less carbon dioxide.
The rules spell out in broad terms how the state
intends to carry out a landmark 2006 California
law that made the state a leader in confronting
climate change. The law — conceived when the economy
was in better shape — requires the state to cut
greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. More
detailed rules will be issued over the next few
California, the nation's most populous state, has
long been in the vanguard of the environmental movement,
adopting the nation's toughest restrictions on auto
pollution decades ago.
Because of its size and market clout, its decisions
can have effects far beyond the state, with manufacturers
around the country often adapting their products
to meet California's stricter standards.
John Kabateck, executive director of the California
branch of the National Federation of Independent
Business, argued against the new rules, warning:
"Now is not the time to make it even harder to do
business in California."
But Air Resource Board chairwoman Mary Nichols
said California's plan would save its residents
and businesses money in the long run.
"We believe that California, again and again,
has pushed for higher levels of efficiency in our
electric sector, our buildings and appliances, and
time after time it turns out efficiency measures
have not only saved us money but leaped our economy
ahead," Nichols said after the vote.
A board report found that the average household
would save $400 a year by driving more fuel-efficient
vehicles and living in more energy-efficient homes.
And already, private investors have given more than
$2.5 billion this year to new companies that have
sprung up in California, in part to respond to the
state's environmental goals, said Bob Epstein, co-founder
of Environmental Entrepreneurs.
"Our president-elect has called for stimulating
our economy," said Bill Mcgavern, director of California's
Sierra Club. "I think he and the Congress will be
looking to the state of California, and these measures
can serve as a model for the rest of the country."
One major piece of the plan is contingent on the
federal government giving California the go-ahead
to force automakers to build cleaner cars and trucks.
The Bush administration has blocked that law from
taking effect, but California officials hope the
Obama administration will reverse course.
The plan will also require utilities to generate
one-third of their electricity from renewable sources
such as wind, solar and geothermal by 2020. And
energy-efficiency standards for buildings and for
air conditioners and other appliances will be strengthened.
Also, fuel providers will have to reformulate transportation
fuels so they are a combined 10 percent less carbon-intensive
by 2020. And local governments will get incentives
to curb urban sprawl and reduce how far people drive
to work or school.
The cap-and-trade plan that will allow businesses
to buy their way out of the problem is a particularly
contentious part of the plan. California's poor
communities say polluters in their neighborhoods
may just write a check rather than clean up their