Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (along with the legislature) has a chance to make California a world leader in reducing global warming. The Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, would place limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted in the state, codifying pollution goals Schwarzenegger approved last year (according to local press reports).
The state would set the regulations, which wouldn’t take effect until 2012, after studying various approaches that would allow businesses to meet the limits by buying and selling pollution. By forcing California industry to reduce its greenhouse emissions, AB 32 could promote the kind of innovation for which this state is famous.
Some business leaders, however, including the California Chamber of Commerce, worry that the bill is a "job killer." They say it would increase costs for California power plants, refineries and cement factories and encourage companies to relocate to states with no such regulations. They also argue that limits on emissions could hinder California’s energy production and lead to rolling blackouts during heat waves like last month’s.
Others argue that the real "job killer" is global warming. If hotter days shrink California’s premium vineyards, that’s a job killer. If more precipitation falls as rain than snow, the Sierra snowpack dwindles and the fragile infrastructure built to control floods and allocate water rights in the state’s Central Valley collapses, that’s a job killer. If warmer temperatures make it harder for California to rid its air of smog, that’s a job killer. Global warming puts property, jobs and, yes, corporations at risk.
In fact, AB 32 could help create jobs. Capping carbon emissions could help spur an alternative-energy boom and research into alternative-energy technology that could help the economy grow and ease future energy shortages. Opening the door to these opportunities now would give California a competitive advantage when the rest of the nation catches up.
And California is not likely to be alone for long. New England states have already begun forming a cap-and-trade consortium. New Mexico is organizing neighboring Southwest states. Other states have followed California’s lead on clean-air regulations in the past — and are likely to again.
None of this means that the changes will be easy. At stake here is nothing less than providing affordable energy for sustainable prosperity without wrecking the global climate. But carbon caps are coming. Climatologists and economists agree that voluntary measures alone will not sufficiently reduce emissions. If what business wants is regulatory certainty, then it makes sense to start working for it now.