With its 2016 session coming to an end next week, the California legislature has passed two critical bills to extend and strengthen the state’s climate goals. In the coming days, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) is expected to sign both SB-32, which strengthens the state’s emissions limit to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and AB-197, which broadens the scope of the California Air Resources Board.
The state’s previous goal was to hit 1990 emissions levels by 2020. It is on track to meet that goal.
“With these bills, California’s charting a clear path on climate beyond 2020 and we’ll continue to work to shore up the cap-and-trade program, reduce super pollutants and direct more investment to disadvantaged communities,” Brown said in a statement.
California already had some of the country’s most aggressive climate laws. Last year, the legislature directed the state’s utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030 and set a goal of increasing building efficiency by 50 percent. The state is already a leader on clean energy and transportation emissions regulations.
Brown had already issued an executive order with the new emissions targets, but the emissions bill’s passage will put it into law. The other piece of legislation, AB 197, was largely seen as a concession to Sacramento Republicans and communities that are disproportionately affected by ground-level pollution from industry sources. It will require the California Air Resources Board to use a social cost of carbon metric when evaluating emissions reduction proposals and to prioritize measures that decrease direct emissions. In addition, two legislators will join the board in a non-voting capacity.
And despite the hopes of some environmental advocates, the amended emissions act will not extend the state’s cap-and-trade market, which is set to end in 2020. Under state law governing bills that affect taxes and fees, the cap-and-trade component of the bill needed to pass the legislature with a supermajority — which its supporters could not rally.
The cap-and-trade program appears troubled. On Tuesday, it was reported that only a third of the available emissions credits for the state were sold during the last quarterly auction. Poor sales suggest market saturation and industry uncertainty. Analysts have suggested that the available credits are not declining quickly enough to keep up demand, and industry buyers could also be waiting to see what happens with the program’s future.
Low emissions credit sales also mean that less revenue is coming in — revenue that was earmarked for public transportation and clean energy projects — making it even harder for Brown and other cap-and-trade supporters to make an argument for the scheme.
But Brown has said that the fight for the state program is not over. He told reporters Wednesday the legislature may take it up again, or a it could be put to the voters via a ballot initiative.
And California legislators seem to be broadly supportive of the idea behind pricing carbon, the main idea behind cap-and-trade. This week the legislature passed a resolution calling on the federal government to implement a carbon tax.