California to Regulate Semiconductor Plants’ CO2 Emissions

Published June 1, 2009

A new mandate by the California Air Resources Board singles out the state’s semiconductor plants, implementing rules aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the state by more than half by 2012.

The mandate reinforces Assembly Bill 32, the 2006 law championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to lower the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

There are 85 semiconductor plants in the state, most in the San Francisco Bay area. Many in the industry are outraged at the new obligation. Critics of the mandate say the stricter regulations will cost businesses $37 million—a potentially crippling blow in an already-bad economy.

‘Phantom Menace’
John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D., an expert in environmental law and policy advisor for the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, said this is not the time for California to impose new regulations on its businesses, given the rising unemployment rate and bleak economic outlook.

“They are chasing after a phantom menace,” Dunn said. “Controlling carbon dioxide emissions is very expensive, and if plants are forced to comply, some will say, ‘We can’t afford to do business in California,’ and they may move on.

“An economically crippled California cannot continue to pursue one environmental phantom menace after another and continue to compete globally or even within the United States,” Dunn added.

Small Problem, Big Cost
Craig Moyer, chairman of the land, environment, and energy division of the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips law firm in Los Angeles, said the state’s standards are controversial because the volume of greenhouse gases is small while the costs to meet the new emissions mandates are high.

Spending millions of dollars to lower emissions is not cost-effective for many California manufacturers, Moyer said, and the state’s economy depends on chipmakers.

“A mixed message is being sent,” Moyer said.

Slowing Regulations Down
Some California lawmakers are trying to slow the process of implementing the new mandates. State Sen. Robert Dutton (R-Riverside) has proposed Senate Bill 295, which would delay implementation of the new mandate, citing the state’s dire economic conditions.

Dutton’s proposed measure would require the Air Resources Board to reanalyze the costs of implementing AB 32. The senator wants implementation to begin once the state is back on its feet—defined as an unemployment rate below 5.8 percent.

When AB 32 was enacted, California was in better economic shape, with less than 5 percent unemployment, Dutton noted.

Tech Industry Disappointed

John Greenagel, a spokesman for the San Jose-based Semiconductor Industry Association, said his group is disappointed the Air Resources Board chose to focus on semiconductor plants.

CARB said targeting the chipmakers is less ambitious than going after businesses such as power plants, automakers, and cement manufacturers. Leo Kay, spokesman for the board, called semiconductor plants “the traditional low-hanging fruit.”

Greenagel said that doesn’t sit well with his association.

“If they are looking for low-hanging fruit, as they have said, they should look at another tree,” Greenagel said.

Celeste Altus ([email protected]) writes from Martinez, California.