Nov 042010
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The state’s voters backed a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels

Voters have turned back an effort to suspend California’s efforts to tackle climate change, a wide-reaching program ranging from a cap-and-trade market for greenhouse gas emissions to energy efficiency standards for televisions.

In 2006 California passed a law—the Global Warming Solutions Act (Assembly Bill 32)—that pledged the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emission levels back to 1990 levels by 2020. That’s reducing to 427 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted per year; current emissions in the state are roughly 525 million metric tons of greenhouse gases and have been projected to exceed 600 million metric tons by 2020 without such efforts.

The California Air Resources Board developed the program, a set of 70 measures, such as a low-carbon fuel standard, an increase in electricity generated from renewable resources to 33 percent, and a cap-and-trade program for 360 utilities, refineries and other emitting industries. The state released its more than 3,000-page rules for that greenhouse gas permit trading program on October 29. “If I’m under the cap, I make more and more money,” explains policy analyst Tiffany Roberts of California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. “If I’m over the cap, I pay more and more money.”

The majority of the efforts are simple standards, however, such as a new limit on energy usage for televisions with more than 42-inch screens. “We’re down from 450 watts per television to 125 to 200 watts per TV,” says Thom Kelly, acting chief deputy director at the California Energy Commission. “We’re estimating that we’ll save about $700 million a year just in energy costs.”

The low-carbon fuel standard orders providers to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels by 10 percent by 2020 through efforts such as blending in biofuels that result in less greenhouse gases emitted when burned. That final rule is expected in early 2011, according to transportation expert Daniel Sperling of University of California, Davis, although the board is struggling to understand the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the land both directly and indirectly impacted by growing crops for biofuels. “It really is the single issue holding back the low-carbon fuel standards,” he says. “We’ve got to figure it out.”

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