How California Plans to Go Far Beyond Any Other State on Climate

  Read full NY Times article here

Last August, the State Legislature set a goal of slashing emissions more than 40 percent below today’s levels by 2030, a far deeper cut than President Barack Obama proposed for the entire United States and deeper than most other countries have contemplated. So how will California pull this off?

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law expanding the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is expected to play a big role. But cutting greenhouse gases this deeply will involve more than cap and trade. The state plans to rethink every corner of its economy, from urban planning to dairy farms.

Until now, most states have followed a standard playbook for curbing emissions. Market forces have replaced older coal plants with cheaper and cleaner natural gas, while state mandates have added modest shares of wind and solar power to the grid. As a result, domestic carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 14 percent since 2005 at relatively little cost.

But California has now plucked most of that low-hanging fruit. The state’s emissions are nearly back to 1990 levels, it barely uses any coal and it has installed as many solar panels as the rest of the country combined. Per capita, California has the third-lowest emissions in the nation, after New York and the District of Columbia, which means further cuts will come less easily than they would for a state like Texas.

“Each additional increment of carbon reduction is tougher than the previous one,” said Dan Reicher, director of the Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford. He added, “California will have to reach deeper into the bag of technologies” to cut emissions from more stubborn polluters like oil refineries and cement plants.

…In January, California’s Air Resources Board, which has broad latitude to carry out the state’s climate laws, detailed one possible strategy for cutting emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

First, by law, California must get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, up from 25 percent today. That’s a herculean task in itself: The state is already straining to cope with sharp swings in solar power during afternoons and will soon have to juggle ever-larger shares of intermittent renewable electricity, by deploying batteries, reworking its grid or taking other novel approaches.

Second, the board envisioned the number of electric cars and other zero-emissions vehicles on California’s roads rising to 4.2 million by 2030 from 250,000 today. Freight trucks would have to become more efficient or electrified, while cities would need to adopt far-reaching strategies to promote mass transit, biking and walking.

But a major push on renewable power and transportation would get California just one-fourth of the way toward its goal. Other cuts would come from doubling efficiency savings from buildings and industry, no mean feat in a state that already has some of the strictest building codes in the country. The state would also need to lower the carbon content of its gasoline supply under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, possibly by increasing biofuel use.

One-third of the reductions in the proposal would come from curbing emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — from landfills, wastewater facilities and manure piles at dairy farms. No state has ever regulated agriculture so aggressively, and dairy farmers are pushing back, warning that capturing methane from millions of cows could prove untenable.

…So, as a complement to these efforts, Mr. Brown insisted on expanding another major program: cap and trade.Mr. Brown has promoted California’s policies as a way of convincing the world that the United States won’t abandon the fight against climate change, even after Mr. Trump announced a withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. “I want to do everything we can to keep America on track, keep the world on track,” Mr. Brown said in May.

California is responsible for only 1 percent of global emissions. But it could contribute even more to the world’s efforts by advancing new tools to tackle climate change, like floating deepwater wind farms.

If the state stumbles, that could provide valuable lessons, too. By 2030, California plans to close its last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, which provides 9 percent of the state’s electricity. The idea is to replace that lost power with renewables and efficiency. If that proves unworkable, it could offer a warning to other states facing nuclear shutdowns.

California’s push to make cap and trade effective could also have global ramifications, especially since Europe has failed to gain traction with its emissions-trading program and China is testing its own version