Maybe the trick is to get away from pollution and power plants and instead make global warming policy appear youthful and fun and exciting (right). Whatever the reason, at a time when the drive for climate regulation has not only stalled but is running in reverse in Washington, the state of California appears content to plow forward and blaze yet another new regulatory trail.
The latest step came Thursday as the California Air Resources Board approved the detailed regulations guiding the cap-and-trade system at center of its ambitious climate law, AB 32 (Los Angeles Times). Enacted in 2006, the law requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which is roughly 15 percent below projected emissions under a business-as-usual scenario.
California’s climate programme represents a multi-pronged attack on greenhouse gas emissions, but it is organized around a single cap-and-trade system now scheduled to go into effect in 2013. The market-based system would create a single cap that declines over time, and companies would be able to buy and sell permits as needed in order to cover their greenhouse gas emissions. For some background on the programme and Mary Nichols, who pulled it all together as the chairwoman of the air resources board, check our feature coverage from May here.
The climate programme kicked off under former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and has endured a change of administration as well as a ballot initiative intended to put things on hold until the ongoing economic woes are in the rear-view mirror. The law is also subject to a legal challenge currently pending in a state court of appeal.
Assuming the programme moves forward as expected, California will once again take the lead on environmental policy in the United States, a fact that may provide a little solace to those who are despairing for any serious consideration of climate issues at the federal level. The real challenge is longer term. Even Nichols, a true believer, warns that California may eventually lose patience or simply run out of steam if other states or the federal government don’t come on board.