California Passes Law to Cap CO2 Emissions

Governor Schwarzenegger signed a carbon-reduction bill into law last Thursday.

On August 31, the California legislature passed a bill establishing the most extensive carbon dioxide (CO2) emission controls yet in the United States. The law requires a 25 percent reduction in state CO2 emissions by 2020, with the first major controls taking effect in 2012. The California Air Resources Board, the agency that enforces the state’s air pollution controls, will be the main authority in establishing emission targets and noncompliance penalties for the law, which also allows for business incentives to reach the goals.

Several northeastern U.S. states signed a regional agreement to reduce CO2 emissions in December of 2005 but their target would reduce emissions by only some 24 million tons. The California mandate, which aims to cut emissions to their 1990 level, will result in cuts of some 174 million tons.

Opponents worry the new law will hurt California businesses and actually contribute to global warming by raising compliance costs to prohibitive levels. “If our manufacturers leave, whether for North Carolina or China, and they take their greenhouse gases with them, we might not have solved the problem but exacerbated it instead,” warns Allan Zaremberg of the California Chamber of Commerce.

Supporters hope that the legislation will instead inspire other states—and eventually the federal government—to follow suit. “The success of our system will be an example for other states and nations to follow as the fight against climate change continues,” noted California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on August 30. And some business leaders believe the law will actually benefit the state economy by creating industries and jobs. “The issue of climate change is important and needs to be dealt with,” explains Peter Darbee of Pacific Gas and Electric, echoing arguments at an April U.S. Senate hearing on mandatory federal carbon caps. “Since the bill has a market-based program, it will work efficiently and effectively for businesses.”

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.