Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

The slow roll of "an extraordinary piece of work": California cap-and-trade slows, again

At a California State Senate committee Wednesday, Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols put the brakes on the centerpiece work of AB 32 - the state's landmark law that sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Nichols holds dominion over implementation of AB 32. Did she tap the brakes, or screech the state to a halt? And will reporters ever stop with the tailpipe-emissions-inspired metaphors? 

The deal is this: get the cap-and-trade-market rules in place next year as planned (they're just for some sectors, anyway). Start enforcing them in 2013, a year later. Of course, getting those rules in place is contingent on reconsidering the cobenefits and coharms to vulnerable, poor, Latino and Black neighborhoods - thanks to recent court decisions in a lawsuit brought by the Communities for a Better Environment and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. In other words: there's a court that's making the state reconsider environmental justice impacts. The state has been insisting it could do this while it gets ready for 2012. Maybe it still can; the point of Nichols' comments, and a year-long delay in enforcement, is, it doesn't have to. 

I last saw Mary Nichols in person at Navigating a Carbon World, a conference held in Hollywood a few months ago. She took part in a roundtable conference where state leaders emphasized the importance of moving forward now, of the increasingly extreme weather events with which the state copes. 

It reminded me that tremendous compromise was necessary to even make a skeleton of rules possible for 2012 - which they did, back in December, an act that, coupled with Schwarzenegger's departure, seemed to make everyone a little misty. They quoted a dead British statesman!

"We're obviously gonna…this is not – what did Winston Churchill say?" Roberts turned to Nichols. "This is the end of the beginning," Nichols said. "And I think this is very apropos because this is going to take a lot of work," Roberts replied.

Environmental groups haven't freaked out about a possible delay. In fact, nobody sounds concerned. The Environmental Defense Fund has already called the delay prudent. So has the author of AB 32, Fran Pavley, who also used the word "modest." The delay, she said, "allows CARB to proceed cautiously to begin implementation of the cap-and-trade portion of the bill. The one year period will provide flexibility; allowing us to road test market mechanisms to see how they will work, while ensuring that the greenhouse gas pollution reductions required by the program remain intact. By getting this right, California can serve as a model for other states and countries."

Perhaps we were at the beginning of the end. But does anyone wonder if a delay puts California in the middle of the middle?