Implementing its landmark emissions law dogs the state

Implementing its landmark emissions law dogs the state
Published: 05 December 2007

For all the praise and attention California has received for its landmark emissions-reduction plan, it’s becoming clear that signing the legislation was the easy part.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promoted the state as a leader in reducing greenhouse gases, telling audiences from Great Britain to the United Nations that the law is a template for the nation and other countries to follow as they seek ways to reduce global warming.

His sales pitch prompted Hawaii and New Jersey to adopt California’s greenhouse gas emissions cap, which calls for the state to reverse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. And Congress is weighing a national mandate based in part on the state’s 2006 law.

But as California lawmakers take up the task of implementing the law, they are haggling over what the 1990 benchmark is and exactly who will be asked to make emission cuts. And industry representatives are now warning that cutting production may be the only way that they can meet its requirements.
Economy versus business

Air regulators believe California’s output of greenhouse gases increased by at least 13 percent between 1990 and 2004, but they acknowledge their own estimates will need updating.

How to cut emissions from vehicles and cement factories, food processors, utilities and hundreds of manufacturing plants without crippling the state’s economy is at the core of a debate that already is proving contentious. At stake is whether the nation’s most populous state, with an economy roughly the size of France, can find a formula that balances the needs of businesses with the mandates for cleaner air.

"We’re trying to figure out how in the world we’re going to make this work," said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, chief operating officer at the Western States Petroleum Association. "There’s too much at stake here to do it wrong."

California is forging into unmarked terrain in its quest to reverse its rising output of greenhouse gas emissions even as its population roars past 37 million.

California is the world’s 12th-largest producer of greenhouse gases, and its law is expected to affect some 800 manufacturing facilities. It requires the major producers - utilities, oil and gas refineries, large manufacturers, timber companies and cement plants - to collectively cut emissions over the next 13 years so that the state can return to 1990 emission levels.