California Takes Lead in Greenhouse Gas Reductions

This article was published by Newsletter, issue #23, .

Of all the 50 states in the American union, California is frequently the leader — often setting the trends in fashion, cuisine, and government policy. This is embodied in the common phrase "As goes California, so goes the nation." This is true of both positive and negative trends. For instance, decades ago, California was unquestionably in the forefront of creating airborne pollution in the U.S., as epitomized by the eye-watering and lung-burning smog that blanketed the Los Angeles basin. Yet that drive and willingness to make changes can cause the pendulum to swing the other way, as evidenced by the enactment of stronger industry and automobile emission standards, and the resultant and dramatic improvement in air quality throughout all major California metropolitan areas since that time. Nonetheless, there is still tremendous room for improvement, especially in the realm of air pollution: In 2005, California was the 12th largest source of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the world, exceeding that of most nations.

But California may take the lead in addressing this problem as well, if the current state governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is able to get approval for his plan to limit greenhouse gases emitted within the state. On 30 August 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the state legislature reached a deal that would place a cap on carbon emissions, including those generated by industrial facilities. As of this writing, the proposed legislation still needs to be approved by both the state Senate and Assembly. However, this is the expected outcome, since the legislature is currently controlled by the Democrats, who worked with Governor Schwarzenegger in developing the proposal. It is anticipated that the bill will soon be sent to the state Senate floor.

Although the bill may quickly be enacted into law, it likely will not carry the legal power that most ecologists would hope for. The emission caps would not be mandatory, as Schwarzenegger had originally desired, but would instead allow the California Air Resources Board to implement a market-based strategy. Schwarzenegger and other administration officials have tried to assuage the concerns of California-based businesses that would be most affected by this legislation, pointing out that a market-based approach would allow the heaviest polluters to purchase credits within that market, thereby allowing them to exceed the limitations. Furthermore, the proposed bill contains a provision that would make it possible for the governor to delay the cap by one year if it would result in severe economic damage, or in the face of catastrophic events.

This new legislation is just the latest effort by Governor Schwarzenegger in his campaign against global warming, which he initiated in 2005 with an executive order that specified continually lower greenhouse gas emissions up to the year 2050. At a news conference, he commented, "The facts are if we do not do something to stop carbon emissions in this world, we will see a diminution in the quality of life." Should this and other ecological proposals of his be enacted into law, and if he wins reelection — thereby giving him another term in which to advocate such policies — then he could be well on his way to establishing himself as the nation's new "Environator".

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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