Air board to detail plan on emissions

Times Staff Writer

The California Air Resources Board today will propose several new measures designed to cut the state’s global warming emissions within the next 2 1/2 years.

The proposals include retrofitting trucks, reducing pollution in computer manufacturing and requiring car owners to keep their tires properly inflated. Altogether, they would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.8 million metric tons a year, an early dent in the 174 million metric tons that must be slashed by the year 2020.

“None of these are huge measures,” board Chairman Mary Nichols said in an interview. “But added together, they are quite significant. . . . Every single action we take -- government, businesses, municipalities and individuals alike -- makes a difference toward ultimately cooling our planet.”

California’s landmark global warming law requires that emissions be reduced to 1990 levels over the next 13 years, a challenge that will require massive changes in many industries, including automotive and electrical power.


Nichols, a veteran environmental lawyer, was appointed in July in the wake of a controversy over whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, allegedly influenced by industry lobbyists, had fired her predecessor, scientist Robert Sawyer, for pushing too hard for early measures to cut greenhouse pollution. The board’s executive director also quit, complaining of meddling by the governor’s staff.

Schwarzenegger, however, said he fired Sawyer over leadership issues; he promptly appointed Nichols, who has broad support in the environmental community. Nichols pledged to add to the three measures adopted by the board in June: a low-carbon fuel standard, improvements in auto air-conditioner maintenance and methane capture from landfills.

“The board was under attack from many quarters for not being serious about doing everything it could to capture the potential for early emissions reductions,” said Nichols, who met with Schwarzenegger on Thursday to discuss the new proposals. “Now we have a much more legitimate down payment on what needs to be done.”

In total, six new measures are to be proposed today, with a public hearing to be held Sept. 17 and a final board vote scheduled for Oct. 25.


The board said it also would act soon on an additional five measures that would make cement plants more energy efficient, require cement to be blended with other materials, prevent trucks from idling at rest stops, recover refrigerants -- including hydrofluorocarbons -- and study how to reduce fertilizer emissions.

So far, counting other agency initiatives -- including a ban on utilities’ purchase of electricity from out-of-state coal-fired plants -- the state is on track to reduce greenhouse gases by more than 36 tons a year by 2020, more than a fifth of the total required under the law.

But Nichols noted that critical issues have yet to be resolved, including the massive contribution of California vehicles to global warming emissions. Automobile companies have filed suit against California’s 2002 law, which would require them to cut carbon dioxide from tailpipes by 30%. And the federal Environmental Protection Agency has yet to issue a waiver allowing California and other states to regulate vehicular greenhouse gases.

Automobile rules, as well as new restrictions on utilities, must be part of the final plan if the state is to reach its 2020 goals, Nichols said.

The air board is also looking at how to design a system for industries to meet greenhouse gas caps by trading the right to pollute: Companies facing expensive cleanups could buy emissions permits from firms that can limit their pollution more cheaply.

A similar cap-and-trade system is being debated in Congress while other states are looking to California for ideas.

“California was first out of the box to adopt a mandatory cap” on pollution that causes global warming, Nichols said. “Now we have made significant progress in fleshing out what’s available to be capped quickly; and other states, which are eager to get involved, have something to look at.”

Representatives of the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn., a frequent critic of efforts to limit emissions, said it was too early to assess the new proposals.


Environmentalists, however, were quick to applaud Nichols’ initiatives.

“These measures get us off to a great start,” said Devra Wang, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California Energy Program. “It’s heartening to see how much progress the state is making just nine months after our landmark law took effect.”

Environmentalists particularly praised the proposals that would reduce global warming pollution while also cutting toxics and improving air quality. But they noted that tough political battles loom -- on cement industry rules, for example -- and on a proposal to change the paint used on vehicles, which absorbs heat and boosts air-conditioning needs.

“The air board has done a good job of staying on schedule,” said Karen Douglas, director of Environmental Defense’s California Climate initiative. “But this process is just beginning.”



Green proposals

If adopted, these plans could be enforced by the California Air Resources Board by 2010, with estimated greenhouse gas reductions totaling at least 2.8 million metric tons annually.*


Require existing trucks and trailers to be retrofitted with devices that reduce aerodynamic drag. (1.3)

Establish standards to reduce emissions of perfluorocarbons in the semiconductor industry. (0.5)

Allow docked ships to shut off their auxiliary engines by plugging into electrical outlets or other technologies on shore. (0.5)

Establish standards to reduce emissions from aerosols, tire inflators, electronics cleaning and dust removal products. (0.3)

Require tuneup and oil change technicians to ensure proper tire inflation. (0.2)

Ban the use of sulfur hexafluoride from nonessential applications if viable alternatives are available. (to be determined)

* Amounts shown in parentheses are millions of metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

Source: California Air Resources Board

Los Angeles Times