A final decision regarding a law on California greenhouse gas emission reduction will likely come in the next few weeks.
The Cailfornia Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as Assembly Bill 32, aims to reduce carbon emmisions to 1990 levels by 2020. To reach these goals, the California Air Resources Board adopted the Scoping Plan in 2008 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through various methods, including cap and trade policy.
Last month, a preliminary ruling by the San Francisco Superior Court found the Scoping Plan unlawful. If the decision is finalized, the Air Resources Board will have to reconsider the environmental impact of the Scoping Plan, said Cara Horowitz, director of the Emmett Center for Climate Change and the Environment.
Horowitz is a law professor at UCLA and has blogged about the case on “Legal Planet,” a joint UCLA/UC Berkeley environmental law and policy blog.
Initially, a coalition of environmental justice groups found two problems with the Scoping Plan.
The first problem was that the Scoping Plan did not seek “maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective reductions,” a requirement of the bill. The court dismissed this claim.
The second problem was the Scoping Plan allegedly did not consider environmental impact and consequences of a cap and trade system, Horowitz said. Judge Ernest Goldsmith agreed with the second claim in his preliminary ruling.
The debate has now been narrowed to examining alternatives to the Scoping Plan’s cap and trade policy. This program puts a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted. The state government then sells the rights to emit carbon dioxide to companies, which can trade pollution credits with each other, said Stephanie Pincetl, the director of the UCLA Center for Sustainable Urban Systems.
But the environmental justice groups that brought the lawsuit against the Air Resources Board oppose the cap and trade program. These groups include the Communities for a Better Environment and the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment.
“Cap and trade will create toxic hotspots in low-income communities of color,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, a staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment.
Those who support cap and trade say the revenue gained from the trading of emission rights will be used to forge programs for these poor populations, Pincetl said.
This argument does not satisfy the environmental justice community, though.
“This heavy reliance on cap and trade won’t get us where we need to be,” Golden-Krasner said.
The coalition seeks methods other than cap and trade to reduce carbon emissions.
“We are supportive of AB 32,” Golden-Krasner said. “We just want to see the Air Resources Board actually examine alternatives to cap and trade.”
These alternatives include a direct tax to carbon emissions.
“The environmental justice community would like to see a reduction in fossil fuels and for these fuels to be priced in accordance to their environmental costs,” Pincetl said. “Cap and trade does not change the fossil fuel mix in California and there will be unequal exposure to green house gas emissions.”
Looking to the future, Pincetl said a tax on carbon will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also encourage industries to move away from nonrenewable energy sources, possibly generating new jobs.
If the ruling is finalized, it will likely be taken to an appeals court, which could overturn the previous ruling entirely or further stall AB 32, Horowitz said.
Regardless, an alternative program is unlikely.
“The court did not demand the state to not use cap and trade, but just to reconsider the alternatives,” Horowitz said, adding that the state will likely move forward with cap and trade. “If the state decides to use another method, it won’t largely be because of this case.”