Climate Progress is happy to introduce Earl Killian as a guest blogger. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been a regular commenter here — so yes, it can happen, commenters can become posters. You can read his full bio here. Welcome, Earl!
Joe has asked me to contribute to Climate Progress, and specifically to report on what is going on in California to address global warming. As one website puts it, “Everybody is talking about global warming. But California is actually doing something about it.” Quite a few states have programs as well, but I do think it is fair to say California is a leader on this issue; it has been extremely active, and a bewildering number of programs are already in place. In this post (Part I) and a follow-up, I will summarize several of the most important, and then I plan to follow up with more detailed descriptions of individual items over time so as to give an idea of the breadth of attack upon the problem interspersed with current California news. I believe that California’s actions can serve as a guide to other states and the Federal government.
Why should we listen to California? Because they have been a leader on environmental matters for decades. Consider just the remarkable results of their multi-decade energy efficiency efforts (click on this figure).
There is a bit of alphabet soup to get used to. California’s efforts come in many forms, including legislation, executive orders from the Governor’s office, and decisions from regulatory agencies. The primary agencies involved are the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the California Energy Commission (CEC), and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Legislation is often referred to by the Assembly Bill (AB) or Senate Bill (SB) number, e.g. AB32 or SB1368.
Global warming politics in California are different from those nationally. For example, AB32 and SB1368 were both passed and signed into law in an election year (2006), with strong popular support. According to Ralph Cavanagh of the NRDC, California business leaders supported the bills, believing that 1) Federal action was inevitable, and 2) by getting a head start on both action and solutions, California would benefit economically. Business opposition was limited because the bills created a level playing field for technologies based only upon greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. even coal would be allowed with carbon capture). They were developed in a bipartisan interaction between the Republican Governor’s office and the Democratic legislature (though the final legislative vote was nearly party-line).
Some of the most important policies that reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions date from the 1970s, when they were instituted in the wake of the October 1973 OPEC oil embargo to encourage energy efficiency. Eliminating waste in energy usage is the most cost-effective and important step in the war on global warming. In 1974 the legislature passed and Governor Reagan signed the Warren-Alquist Act, which created the California Energy Commission, and eventually led to efficiency standards for new buildings and appliances (Title 24 and Title 20). (Reagan actually vetoed the bill and then reversed himself after the embargo.) Also starting in the 1970s, electric and natural gas rates changed to an inverse tier structure: larger users pay more per unit of energy than smaller users, encouraging efficiency. The CPUC also began to decouple utility profits from revenue in 1978 (Natural Gas) and 1982 (electricity), which has allowed the utilities to use lowest-cost generation to meet new demand, which is often getting their customers to use electricity more efficiently (called negawatts). (Negawatts are often one fourth to one half the cost of new generation.) Decoupling was set aside during California’s experiment in deregulation starting in 1998-2001 (AB1890), but returned in response to the disastrous results from deregulation.
The Federal government likewise responded to the energy crises of the 1970s with concerted action, but unlike California, its efforts were curtailed after Reagan became President in the 1980s and his earlier California practicality was trumped by ideology. A major decline in fossil energy prices also affected Federal decision making. Joe has previously written on the efforts of the Gingrich Congress to curtail Federal efforts.
Imagine for a moment a U.S. in which Reagan and Gingrich had not stymied parallel Federal efforts, and U.S. per capita electricity had remained flat since the 1970s! Hundreds of coal power plants would have never been built. Though that opportunity was lost, consider then that we still have the chance to reduce U.S. energy consumption down to California’s level over the coming decades.
Not all of California’s efforts have been successful. As Joe has explained before, plug-in vehicles are a part of the solution to global warming, whereas hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) are probably a diversion, and yet CARB has allowed the automakers to sidetrack plug-in programs in favor of HFCVs. There is still a chance however that recent legislative and executive initiatives will revive CARB’s interest in plug-in vehicles.
California has in the last few years begun to attack its greenhouse gas emissions with additional programs, including a cap on emissions. I plan to cover those in Part II.
– Earl K.