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California Climate Law on Track, State Officials Say

With the energy sector and methane squarely in the sights of state regulators, California is on track to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets by 2020, and it is revising plans to set more challenging reduction targets for 2030, state officials said earlier this month. The goal is to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

With the energy sector reportedly accounting for half of the state's GHG emissions, oil/gas production, transportation and use continue to be at center stage in the efforts of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to implement the state's 2006 climate change law (AB 32), which ushered in a cap-and-trade program that started last year. Also in the mix are various efforts to reduce methane emissions.

In charting the state's progress since AB 32 was signed into law, CARB's first update of state plans concludes that California is "well positioned to maintain and continue reductions [of GHG] beyond 2020." A series of state actions so far, including cap-and-trade, "are driving down GHG emissions and move us steadily in the direction of a cleaner energy economy."

CARB Chair Mary Nichols echoed this in recent testimony to a state Senate Committee on Climate Change and AB 32 Implementation. She said the state has become a "magnet" for clean technology investment, adding that in 2012 $2 billion in clean tech venture capital poured into the state.

"The state has also developed the most comprehensive cap-and-trade program in the world, sending a clear signal to California businesses that investment in clean, low-carbon technologies will be rewarded," Nichols told the lawmakers.

In the first update of CARB's scoping plan since it was produced in 2008, the agency charged with implementing AB 32 makes it clear that energy-related GHG emissions are a key part of mitigation plans.

"Reducing energy sector emissions to near zero over the long-term will require wholesale changes in the state's current electricity and natural gas systems," the plan said. Part of the solution will be "low-carbon electricity generation and modernized transmission/distribution systems.

"Achieving these emission reduction goals will require that a number of important administrative, financial and technological changes are undertaken to guide energy investments and planning," said the plan update, calling out a goal of "decarbonizing" the state's energy systems.

The update concluded that the state has "made remarkable progress" in developing new policies and strategies to reduce GHG emissions from its energy sector.

However, the updated plan calls out methane for renewed emphasis, saying that it is "a growing source of emissions in many countries, including the United States, due to increased exploration and use of natural gas for energy." Methane emissions account for 7.2% of the state's GHG emissions, the CARB plan said.

While a lot of methane is emitted by venting and leaks from processing equipment and pipelines, CARB said higher-than-expected levels of methane have been found from ambient sources, such as natural seeps.

"Recent research suggests that methane emissions from a broad variety of sources could be higher than previously expected, including leaks in natural gas distribution systems, oil/gas extraction and natural seeps," the plan said.

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