California Voters May Repeal Greenhouse Gas Restrictions

Published May 31, 2016

California voters are evenly split on Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that would suspend the state’s greenhouse gas reduction, according to a poll released September 24 by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California. According to the poll, 40 percent of likely voters support Prop 23, 38 percent oppose it, and 21 percent are undecided.

California Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), the Global Warming Act of 2006, requires CO2 emissions in California be cut 25 percent, to 1990 levels, by 2020. Proposition 23 would suspend AB 32 until unemployment in the state drops to 5.5 percent or below for four consecutive quarters.

Difficult Decisions
California has a unique problem in that only 1 percent of its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions come from coal-fired power plants located in the state. Most of California’s electricity is generated using natural gas, which people tend to consider a clean fuel and which provides only a very small opportunity for cutting CO2 emissions.

California imports approximately 20 percent of its electricity from other states, and much of that is generated using coal.

Prop 23 supporters point out cutting emissions will cost jobs, and the state’s troubled economy is already among the worst in the nation.

Shutting down all the cement plants in California would reduce emissions by about 2 percent, but, of course, that would cost jobs. Mexico has a vibrant cement industry, so cement could be made in Mexico rather than in California.

Approximately 7 percent of industrial emissions in California are from refineries, so shutting down the refineries could make a dent in emissions, but that would definitely cause a loss of jobs. Industry other than refineries accounts for approximately 11 percent of California’s emissions, but cutting those emissions is a direct threat to jobs.

Automobile emissions account for around 40 percent of all CO2 emissions in the state, so automobiles represent the only large opportunity to cut CO2 emissions dramatically. Theoretically, if half of Californians drove cars that ran exclusively on batteries (EVs), the state could meet AB 32’s requirements, assuming all the electricity for recharging batteries came from solar, wind, or nuclear.

Cuts Will Become Tougher
Making matters worse, meeting AB 32’s greenhouse gas reductions will be especially difficult because the state is going to be using substantially more energy in the years to come.

According to a report prepared for the California Energy Commission (CEC), 60,000 MW of new generating capacity will have to be built by 2030, not including additions needed for recharging batteries for a massive number of new EVs.

All of that new power would have to be from completely emissions-free sources, or restrictions on cement refineries, industrial emissions, refineries, and vehicle emissions would have to be still more stringent.

Donn Dears ([email protected]) is president of the think tank TSAugust, author of the book Carbon Folly, and administrator of the Web site Power America, where an earlier version of this article appeared. Used with permission.