A plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions could mean cement plants, the biggest producers of carbon dioxide in the High Desert, will have to freeze production at current levels, local industry officials said, although plans already exist to explore commercial uses for the gas.
Legislative bill AB 32, the product of a compromise between state Senate Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, passed in the Assembly on Thursday, one day after it was approved in the Senate.
The bill is the first state-level attempt to tackle global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions from major pollution sources such as electric power plants, oil refineries and cement kilns.
Greenhouse gas-producing facilities and air quality management officials will have to wait until Schwarzenegger signs the bill before they learn exactly how and when emissions will be scaled back.
Under the legislation, the California Air Resources Board will begin by measuring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by major polluters and then set limits on emissions. The regulations would take effect in 2012, with the goal of scaling greenhouse gas back to 1990 levels by 2020.
Local members of the cement industry have been monitoring the bill’s progress. The Mojave Desert is the highest producer of cement in the country, according to community relations manager Violette Roberts of the Mojave Air Quality Management District.
The executive director of the AQMD, Eldon Heaston, said that a cement plant releases approximately twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of fuel burned as a typical power plant. "From the perspective of the cement industry, it appears as though it will put a cap on the level of production of Portland cement in the state of California," said Frank Sheets, communications manager for TXI, the company that owns the Riverside Cement plant in Oro Grande.
"It means that more than likely, there will not be any new investment in cement production capacity in the state of California." H.O. "Bud" Briggs, vice president and plant manager for Mitsubishi Cement Corp in Lucerne Valley agreed. "With the technology today, the only way to reduce CO2 is to cut back on production," he said.
If the state expects industry to cut back on emissions, it should make research and development funds available to people who have ideas on how to reduce greenhouse gases. Heaston said that the Cement Industry Environmental Consortium, which includes most plants in the High Desert and many throughout California, has issued a request for proposal for a pilot project to harness carbon dioxide. Now is a good time for private industry to find profit in technologies to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, he said.