State tries to regulate greenhouse gas emissions

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California's moving forward with plans to reduce its greenhouse gases to the emissions levels of 10 years ago. KPCC's Molly Peterson says elected officials and policy makers in the southern part of the state are having a hard time adjusting to the idea of a new, low-carbon diet.

Molly Peterson: If the state's plan to cut greenhouse gases is a kind of diet, then our dependence on cars and trucks is a dietary splurge. At a recent UCLA conference, urban planning analyst Bill Fulton predicted that it'll be tough for the Southland to change its habits.

Bill Fulton: The problem is that our society, as I discovered driving here today, is so auto-oriented most people must drive. And so the question is, how do you alter the built environment to absorb more alternatives to driving?

Peterson: Fulton and another speaker at the UCLA conference, Santa Monica Mayor Pam O'Connor, said one answer is placing limits on land use and sprawl. O'Connor's city is considering how the price of parking affects where people drive.

Pam O'Connor: No matter what we do regional traffic will swarm. And take over open roads. So the problem always remains on how to reduce that traffic congestion, and frankly that's the core thing on everyone's minds.

Peterson: Fran Pavley wrote the law that places California on a greenhouse gas diet. She told a federal hearing last week that the state needs to regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions. Pavley chairs a state senate committee on water – another area in which she says California could change policies that contribute to global warming.

Fran Pavley Eighteen to nineteen percent of all the energy we use in California is moving and treating water.

Peterson: In Los Angeles, most of that energy comes from coal and natural gas. L.A. Department of Water and Power chief David Nahai says a carbon diet means his utility must boost the renewable energy on its menu.

David Nahai: We were at 3 percent, we broke 10 percent a few months ago, we're going for 20 percent by 2010, 35 percent by 2020. No other utility that I am aware of has adopted as a firm policy 35 percent by 2020.

Peterson: But the DWP has fought efforts to set up a carbon market for electricity, in which power plant owners would buy the right to pollute, then trade credits to other generators. Nahai calls that a bad tactic.

Nahai: Cap and trade has to be part of the mix, but we believe it should play a secondary role. We shouldn't create a market just to create a market. We should create a market if that's going to ensure that greenhouse gas is going to be cut.

Peterson: Nahai concedes that the more the utility cuts greenhouse gas emissions, the more its customers may have to pay. At the ports, Los Angeles harbor commissioner Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza says California's new emissions rules may also carry unforeseen costs.

Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza: We've spent the last three-and-a-half years in some cases ramming down our customers' throats some very tough new requirements with respect to criteria air pollutants.

And the fear is that if we come out with a brand new set of requirements and demands on our customers that specifically address greenhouse gases at a time when they're struggling to survive, they'll just pick up and leave. And that won't do anyone any good, economically or environmentally.

Peterson: Mendoza also works for the Environmental Defense Fund. She doesn't doubt the value of California's self-imposed greenhouse gas diet. But like other officials, she says the state's got to be careful not to starve its economy to death.