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Trying to reset climate clock

State issues plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. Electricity use and traffic are targets.

October 16, 2008|Margot Roosevelt | Times Staff Writer

California forged ahead Wednesday in its bold attempt to turn back the clock of climate change, issuing its final draft of an economywide plan to slash the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.

Over the next 12 years, new regulations would shrink the per capita carbon footprint of Californians by an average of four tons per year, cutting the level of electricity residents use with more efficient buildings and appliances, and reducing the amount they drive, by discouraging urban sprawl.

The plan would force auto manufacturers to make cleaner cars, require utilities to build more solar and wind plants, and compel industries to hike energy efficiency to unprecedented levels.

"Despite a difficult economy, it is important that we move forward," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, adding that the plan would result in "tens of thousands more jobs and a boost to California's gross domestic production."

California's climate blueprint would slash the state's emissions about 15% below today's level at a time when a consensus of scientists say that global warming is shrinking the state's water supplies, intensifying wildfires, and stressing plant and animal populations.

Congress last spring balked at passing national legislation to curb planet-heating gases, despite international pressure on the United States to assume global leadership on the issue. Both presidential candidates have said they will push for a nationwide cap on greenhouse gases.

California's plan was immediately attacked by a coalition of businesses, led by the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn. and the California Chamber of Commerce, which said the rules would result in "billions of dollars of increased energy costs." The group asserted that the plan would raise electricity rates by 11%, natural gas rates by 8% and gasoline costs by $11 billion a year.

Mary Nichols, chairman of the Air Resources Board, which designed the plan and will vote on it in December, said overall Californians would save by using less energy.

She said the board's plan has sparked "a robust conversation" across the state since a draft was completed in June. More than 90,000 copies of the document were downloaded in the first five days, she said. Since then, 40,000 comments have poured in "from postcards to 55-page dense analyses . . . . We read them all, logged them in, and they are up on our website."

Environmentalists praised the blueprint as "an economic stimulus plan" that could spur a "clean tech" economy similar to Silicon Valley's technological boom. Venture capital investment in alternative energy companies has soared in the last two years.

But some environmentalists said the plan did not go far enough in cracking down on sprawl.

"We can't afford another 10 years of business-as-usual land-use planning," said Audrey Chang, California climate director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Environmentalists also criticized the design of a cap-and-trade plan, which would allow some industries broad flexibility in meeting targets. Under the auspices of a Western trading plan that would include six other states and four Canadian provinces, California would give away as much as 90% of industry pollution permits for these industries, rather than auctioning them. That, said economist Christopher Busch of the Union of Concerned Scientists, "would generate windfall profits for polluters and enrich out-of-state corporate shareholders."

The state's trading program also would allow up to 49% of the emission reductions from some industries to be "offset" by purchasing credits from pollution-cutting programs out of state. Angela Johnson Meszaros, co-chair of the board's Environmental Justice Committee, said that provision would export jobs and allow California factories to escape stricter clean-up rules.

"This plan does not put the health and welfare of California residents first," she said.

Opponents on all sides will have more chances to weigh in. Complex regulations to implement the plan, such as one to reduce the carbon content of fuels, will be debated over the next dozen years.

Meanwhile, the state's 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, which gave rise to the plan, has inspired emission limits in five states: Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts and Hawaii. More than a dozen other states have adopted or are considering greenhouse gas reduction goals.

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margot.roosevelt@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Cleaner, greener

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: 26.3

* Utilities switch to more renewable energy: 21.3

* Low-carbon fuel standard: 15

* Measures to control high-warming gases: 20.2

* Sustainable forests: 5

* Vehicle efficiency measures: 4.5

* Goods movement, including port restrictions: 3.7

* Heavy/medium-duty vehicles: 1.4

* California solar program: 2.1

* Local government and land use: 5

* High-speed rail: 1

* Recycling and waste: 1

* Industrial measures: 1.4

* Additional reductions from cap-and-trade transactions: 34.4

* Total: 174

Source: Air Resources Board

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