The 12th largest source of greenhouse gases in the world is taking a bold step to reduce emissions. That source is the state of California, which is poised to lead the nation in the effort to combat global warming. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this week (September 27) signed landmark legislation that will impose the kind of sweeping greenhouse gas emissions reductions the federal government has rejected.
For months, Bernadette Del Chiaro has been collecting postcards signed by concerned Californians to send to the governor urging him to follow through on his promise to tackle global warming. She's an advocate with the group Environment California and at this point she has about 30,000 postcards she won't be needing. She describes AB-32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, as historic. "It's landmark," she says. "It can be adopted by other states and the federal government and I think is a real watershed moment in environmental policy."
The bill will set into state law a cap on greenhouse gas emissions - a 25 percent reduction by 2020 - and it empowers state regulators to require major emissions reductions from the largest carbon polluters. Del Chiaro says it will affect a wide range of industries. "Oil refineries, power plants, landfills, large manufacturers, the cement industry. All of the polluters that make up 60 percent of California's greenhouse gas pollution." The bill also opens up the way for California to introduce market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading, so that if one company can't meet the standards, they can buy emissions credits from another company.
But that hasn't quieted the complaints of some influential business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce. Chamber spokesman Vince Sollitto says California can't cure global warming on its own and new regulations will drive businesses out of the state. "If Californians think they pay a lot for gas and energy now," he says, "just wait for this to become law, since our state is the only one now with these caps."
But bill co-author and long-time environmental crusader assemblywoman Fran Pavley says she heard the same complaints about her 2002 legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Now, she says, 10 other states have adopted similar rules. "When California does something," she points out, "because we have 38 million people, people do take notice."
This bill will bring California close to meeting the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gasses. It's a treaty the U.S. federal government has refused to sign on to. Democrat Fabian Nunez, co-author of the bill, says he hopes this legislation will start a national movement. "We want to be the first to do our share, to say to the rest of the nation, let's all follow suit. And let's work from the bottom up to get our federal government to play the pivotal role that it needs to play nationally."
The first regulations will take effect in 2012.