California Leading the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Revolution

By Tina Caparella

It has long been known that what California does legislatively can eventually have an impact on the rest of the country. This is appearing quite evident when it comes to standards aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In 2006, California enacted its Global Warming Solutions Act, tasking the California Air Resources Board (CARB) with various responsibilities toward reducing the state’s GHG emissions. One of the steps taken was the establishment of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which was issued on January 18, 2007, and calls for a reduction of at least 10 percent in the carbon intensity of California’s transportation fuels by 2020. Three years later, CARB has finalized a regulation to meet the standard, setting average carbon intensity requirements for petroleum and alternative fuels in order to reduce the state’s carbon emissions at least 10 percent by 2020. In 2010, regulated parties are only required to report, but by 2011, they must meet the carbon reduction requirements set forth in the regulation, beginning with 0.25 percent reduction the first year, with incremental increases each year until a 10 percent reduction is met in 2020.

Now other U.S. states and Canadian provinces are taking California’s lead or teaming up with the western state in an effort to reduce GHG emissions from transportation fuels and vehicles.

Eleven governors from Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) committing to a regional effort to develop a comprehensive, regional low carbon fuel standard, a market-based, fuel-neutral program that would apply to the transportation sector, and potentially apply to fuels used for heating buildings. A low carbon fuel standard has the potential to reduce transportation-related GHG emissions, which represent approximately 30 percent of emissions in the Mid-Atlantic region; reduce regional vulnerability to petroleum price volatility; and facilitate the long-term transition from petroleum-based fuels in the transportation sector. The states signing onto the agreement include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Based on letters of intent signed in December 2008, the 11 states have already begun preliminary work toward designing a low carbon fuel standard. The MOU established a process to develop a regional framework by 2011 and examine the economic impacts of a standard program. Ten of the 11 states have already demonstrated the success of regional emissions reduction programs with their participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade scheme that covers GHG emissions from power plants. A regional program to address transportation and other fuels is considered prudent and efficient among the signatories given the interconnected nature of the fuel distribution system in the region.

Pennsylvania is already making strides in the production and use of lower-carbon fuels. Starting January 1, 2010, all diesel fuel sold in the state must contain at least two percent biodiesel, since in-state production capacity hit 40 million gallons a year at the end of 2008. Under a state law signed in July 2008, as Pennsylvania capacity to produce biodiesel grows, the required percentage of biodiesel in diesel fuel grows, reducing GHG emissions. The state has put other initiatives in place to further reduce Pennsylvania’s emissions by 36 percent.

Canada Joins the Revolt
Two Canadian provinces are also following California’s lead in reducing GHGs, although, at this time, only as it relates to vehicles emissions.

In Quebec, a regulation in respect to motor vehicle GHG emissions, whose standards are equivalent to those in California, went into effect in mid-January, making it the first Canadian province to apply North American standards. The law is an important step in meeting the goals of the province’s 2006-2012 Climate Change Action Plan, and is a determinant factor in reaching Quebec’s 2020 GHG emission reduction target as well.

In 2006, the transportation sector was the highest producer of Quebec’s GHG emissions, accounting for 40 percent of the total, with light vehicles responsible for half of these emissions. The regulation will apply to all 2010-2016 model-year cars and light trucks sold, leased, or marketed in the province. Automobile manufacturers will be required to ensure that for each of these model years, their average fleet GHG emissions do not exceed regulatory levels.

On the Western side of Canada, British Columbia and CARB signed an MOU in December that commits British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and the board to move forward in partnership in the implementation of GHG emissions standards for new cars, sport utility vehicles, and light-duty trucks. Standards mirroring California’s are projected to reduce GHG emissions from light-duty vehicles in British Columbia by 30 percent in 2016, relative to current vehicles. Both parties will share information and resources to support consistent application of vehicle emissions standards to vehicle models available in California and British Columbia.

Newsline – February 2010 RENDER | back