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California Accelerating Efforts to Reduce GHG Emissions

The Trump administration may plan to withdraw the United States from the United Nations global climate accord, but California is going its own way, with government, industry and environmental leaders entering 2018 with the shared understanding that they have accelerated efforts to mitigate climate change and reduce overall carbon emissions in the nation's most populous state.

A Democratic legislature supportive of Gov. Jerry Brown's aggressive approach, continued to pass energy laws last year bolstering a turn to decarbonize over the next three decades. Part of the continued push was focused on addressing disadvantaged communities, rekindling the so-called "environmental justice" movement.

Last month, the California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) created a joint advisory group focused on disadvantaged communities, responding to state legislation, SB 350, which requires the agencies to address the issue. The CEC and CPUC jointly plan to name 10 of the 11 members, with the governor's Native American tribal liaison selecting another person.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) last month launched a section on its website devoted to real-time data on air pollution and air toxic emission levels at major greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sources in specific neighborhoods. CARB Chair Mary Nichols said the tool would provide "transparency and accountability" to neighborhoods.

"Air quality monitoring reports are public information, but they are often difficult for the public to access,” she said. Anyone “with access to a computer or smartphone” may access emissions data for any major industrial or energy facility in the state.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which has a nationwide campaign to eliminate major sources of methane emissions in the natural gas supply chain, has promoted California's efforts as a model for cutting carbon and still growing the economy.

EDF called out California’s 2016 emissions data that showed a continued decline in GHG emissions. It also noted the integral role that the state's cap-and-trade emissions auction program is playing now that it is extended to 2030.

"With strong climate policies in place, California's GHG emissions have declined by more than 9% since 2006," EDF said. "The carbon intensity of California's economy has also decreased -- meaning while the state is reducing emissions -- it is also taking less carbon to continue growing the economy."

California's two major oil and gas associations, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), support or remain neutral regarding the auction program and its extension.

While recognizing that California's GHG emission reduction goals for 2030 are the "world's most stringent " and therefore technologically challenging, WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd expressed strong support for bipartisan approval of the extended emissions credit auction program. Reheis-Boyd said the pollution trading market is preferred to more draconian, command-and-control approaches the state could have imposed.

A CIPA spokesperson told NGI that the independents' group was neutral on the cap-and-trade extension and would remain so.

EDF also is an advocate of CARB's approach, which “places firm limits on carbon pollution while providing businesses flexibility to make the lowest cost reductions first,” a spokesperson said. “Emissions trading programs such as cap-and-trade are in place in over 50 locations covering more than a billion people, and more than 90 countries expressed interest in using markets to meet their Paris agreement commitments.”

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