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California Passes Law to Cap CO2 Emissions

bearflag.jpg Alana Herro writes for Eye on Earth (e²), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e² provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

On August 31, the California legislature passed a bill establishing the most extensive carbon dioxide (CO2) emission controls yet in the United States. The law requires a 25 percent reduction in state CO2 emissions by 2020, with the first major controls taking effect in 2012. The California Air Resources Board, the agency that enforces the state’s air pollution controls, will be the main authority in establishing emission targets and noncompliance penalties for the law, which also allows for business incentives to reach the goals.

Several northeastern U.S. states signed a regional agreement to reduce CO2 emissions in December of 2005 but their target would reduce emissions by only some 24 million tons. The California mandate, which aims to cut emissions to their 1990 level, will result in cuts of some 174 million tons.

Opponents worry the new law will hurt California businesses and actually contribute to global warming by raising compliance costs to prohibitive levels. “If our manufacturers leave, whether for North Carolina or China, and they take their greenhouse gases with them, we might not have solved the problem but exacerbated it instead,” warns Allan Zaremberg of the California Chamber of Commerce.

Supporters hope that the legislation will instead inspire other states—and eventually the federal government—to follow suit. “The success of our system will be an example for other states and nations to follow as the fight against climate change continues,” noted California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on August 30. And some business leaders believe the law will actually benefit the state economy by creating industries and jobs. “The issue of climate change is important and needs to be dealt with,” explains Peter Darbee of Pacific Gas and Electric, echoing arguments at an April U.S. Senate hearing on mandatory federal carbon caps. “Since the bill has a market-based program, it will work efficiently and effectively for businesses.”

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So those complaining would rather we do nothing, I supppose. Given California's massive population growth and its absurdly high house prices, maybe losing a few businesses wouldn't be such a bad thing. It is true, of course, that this has to be done on an international and national leve; in the mean time, however, the only alternative available is to do this from the ground up.

In any event, those businesses which cut greenhouse gases will be the ones who have become more efficient in their use of energy. With the increasing cost of energy, those businesses will be the ones who are able to compete in a national and global market.

Posted by: t on 5 Sep 06

What we *really* need to do in CA is get the damned SUVs off the road, and force businesses to implement flex hours if at all possible to eliminate our massive traffic problems. That will do a lot more good than this measure. We already pretty much promote clean air standards for businesses and maufacturing anyway.

Posted by: donna on 5 Sep 06

This is a major step and I'm quite happy about it. Of course as long as the system is not closed, it won't be as effective as it could be (because businesses can just move somewhere where there is no carbon restrictions).

But if we look at the track record of these things, the doomsayer are probably wrong. The phaseout of CFCs was supposed to wreck the world economy. Same with sulfur regulations, IIRC.

It's not surprising that businesses don't want to move until they are forced. Nobody wants to take risks. But what they'll find is probably that investments in R&D and energy efficiency are competitive advantages, not disadvantages.

Posted by: Michael G. Richard on 5 Sep 06

We all need a goal. I'm glad to see that one has finally been set and respectfully the rationale behind the decision is being share. Global community requires each of us to be willing to learn and to adapt to changes that aren't always convenient.

As far as business goes, most technology centered companies are very nervous about going to China for fear of lossing intellectual property. Analysis of recent trends would suggest that business are made up of people who like where they live therefore Californians will buckle down find new innovations and respond to the task at hand.

Posted by: Paul Gibson on 6 Sep 06

This is good news! By 2020 most of these politicians will be dead or retired so it's not risky for them, and they're doing something good for the environment. Like my fellow commenters have said, California needs to get over its dependency on business.

Environmental and public interest groups are better employers anyway, as is government. Businesses seem to be the root of all evil as far as I can see. Why do they even give the "chamber of commerce" a voice in this issue?

Good for California politicians, they've finally grown a spine.

Posted by: Buonarati on 6 Sep 06

A great thing. The link between energy and economic growth has been thoroughly studied: it becomes more and more clear that:
1. the long term costs of shifting to a new 'energy paradigm' are far lower than not shifting - the shift has to come anyway
2. countries / states / regions that lead in developing new energy carriers and energy technologies are the economic winners (over the whole history of mankind)
3. some established business fear of course that they loose power - most will however be able to adapt successfully and become re-energised leaders in the field - again history of economics abounds of examples.
4. it takes politicial courage to implement strict rules. Great that california is standing up as the knowledge intensive business leader in the world it is.
A lot more could be said but this part of cyberspace is limited.

Posted by: Egbert van de Schootbrugge on 24 Sep 06



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