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California and the West

State Democrats Get Tough on Emissions

A bill would limit releases of greenhouse gas to combat global warming. Governor's team has other ideas.

April 04, 2006|Marc Lifsher and Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Democratic lawmakers unveiled legislation Monday aimed at controlling industrial emissions of greenhouse gas, setting up a possible showdown with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- and the federal government -- over how far the state should go in trying to combat global warming.

The bill, backed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and an array of environmental groups, would set firm limits on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas released by factories, power plants and refineries.

The measure is more stringent than a series of recommendations released Monday by Schwarzenegger's Climate Action Team.

State administration officials and Nunez say they want California, the nation's richest and most populous state, to fill a void left by what they consider a lack of federal regulation. They hope to ally California with other states and business activists in tackling the sources of global warming, which is blamed for rising ocean levels and suspected as a cause of extreme weather.

For now, the governor and Democrats "are working on the same page," said bill coauthor Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).

The report to the governor calls for mandatory reporting by businesses of greenhouse gas pollution, mainly carbon dioxide. According to the report, creating an inventory of emissions would lead to the development of a market-based trading system that would cap total emissions and provide monetary credits to firms that cut pollution below assigned limits. Those credits could be sold to companies that exceed their emission limits.

The Nunez bill takes the governor's proposal a step further by directing the California Air Resources Board to set limits on industrial emissions of greenhouse gas. The goal would be to reduce emissions to a target defined by Schwarzenegger in an executive decree last year: 20% below forecast levels for 2020.

Some businesses, particularly heavy polluters such as cement makers and refineries, say they oppose mandatory reporting and caps because they would put an unfair economic burden on California companies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees with groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce that voluntary, incentive-based programs are preferable for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. They contend that mandatory cap and trade programs could push jobs and dirty air overseas to countries where there are few or no air-quality controls.

The EPA isn't considering setting national limits on greenhouse gas emissions, spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said.

California is already wrestling with the federal government over a 2002 law sponsored by Pavley that led to regulations requiring automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions 29% on cars and light trucks sold in the state by 2016. Ten other states are trying to adopt California's tougher emission standards.

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration contends that the regulations are the equivalent of new fuel economy standards, which only the federal government is entitled to set.

A spokesman for California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer called the argument "completely bogus."

The NHTSA stance is "an unwarranted attack on California's landmark law to fight one of the greatest environmental dangers facing our people and economy," spokesman Tom Dresslar said.

Automakers are using the same argument as NHTSA in lawsuits against California and other states that seek to overturn the tailpipe emissions standards. The auto companies also contend that meeting the state requirements would be too expensive.

U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), along with 19 of their Senate colleagues, wrote to the EPA on Friday demanding that the agency grant California a waiver to the Clean Air Act that would allow the state and others to enforce their own vehicle emission standards and reduce global warming.

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