Offsets could involve projects outside of California but within the regional Western market. They would be subject to scrutiny to certify the reductions as authentic. International offsets might be permitted for Mexican border projects or for imported cement, a benefit for state cement firms that say it would be too expensive to cut carbon.
Nichols said the partners in a Western carbon-trading alliance are "committed to this process" but said that if a stalemate persists after two years, "We have time to reassess and either go forward on our own or look at other options."
David Nahai, chief executive of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, who had expressed strong reservations about the air board's direction before the plan was issued, said in an e-mail message that "the plan goes a long way toward addressing the concerns we have voiced over using a cap-and-trade auction as the primary device to lower greenhouse gas emissions."
The DWP relies on coal to generate almost half of its electricity, potentially putting it in a position of paying huge sums to offset the pollution, money the utility says it would rather spend on switching to cleaner sources. The plan, however, would support the DWP's efforts to switch to renewable fuels "as opposed to thwarting our efforts, as prior proposals would have done," Nahai said.
Patricia Monahan, director of the California office of the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted that the plan, "while still a proposal, represents the furthest step forward any state has taken in the fight against global warming."
But Chris Busch, a Union economist, added that the Western Climate Initiative needs to be strengthened: "Until the details are filled in, the jury remains out."
From an economic viewpoint, the air board sought to head off the sort of industry attack that has stymied national legislation, by highlighting what it said would be "a green tech business boom."
Moreover, it added, the plan could save taxpayers $2 billion in medical and other costs by 2020, by reducing harmful air pollution that would otherwise cause 340 premature deaths and 9,400 cases of asthma, it estimated. Energy-efficient buildings would save money for their occupants, and clean cars would cost less to drive, the board noted.
"Making our state more efficient will make our state grow," Nichols said. "We can protect our economy and our environment at the same time."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The California Air Resources Board has released its blueprint to bring the state's emission of greenhouse gases down to 1990 levels by 2020. Here is where it hopes to make the cuts, in million metric tons:
Clean car standards: 31.7
Energy efficiency, appliances and green buildings: 26.4
Utilities switch to more renewable energy: 21.2
Low-carbon fuel standard: 16.5
Measures to control high-warming gases: 16.2
Sustainable forests: 5
Vehicle efficiency measures: 4.8
Goods movement, including port restrictions: 3.7
Heavy/medium-duty vehicles: 2.5
California solar program: 2.1
Local government and land use: 2
High-speed rail: 1
Landfill methane control: 1
Additional reductions from cap-and-trade transactions: 35.2
Source: California Air Resources Board