Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Report: CARB chair Mary D. Nichols on AB32 in Nevada City

Update: other reports by Rebane, Steele; reaction by Pelline. If you run across others, could you please add them in the comments?

Tonight was the AB32 presentation at City Hall by California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols. It was informative, well attended, well-run and civil. Kudos to organizers Judy Kildow and Robert Bergman and speaker Nichols for the format, which limited the presentation to AB32 and called for questions to be written on an index card and passed to the aisle.

Practically everyone who was anyone was there.
(And if you missed it, some extremely welcome news - there are plans to bring other science and science-aligned policy experts to our community, to speak on issues like climate change and ocean acidification.)

Nichols spoke for about half an hour on AB32's aims and implementation, then answered audience questions. She stressed that she represented all of us and was not expected or permitted to advocate for or against the stop-AB32 initiative, Prop. 23.

She pointed out we're victims of Bay Area and Sacto-area emissions - our air quality is worse than any rural region in the country, and worse than any region outside of California. And global warming makes air pollution worse - for the same amount of pollution emitted, you get more ground-level ozone. Their study projected that in 40 years, with global warming we'll have an extra 30 "bad ozone" days a year.
"People don't want air that shortens their lives and makes their children sick."
What AB32 does -
Its goal is to get us off petroleum in 40 years, to increase efficiency & shift to more reliable & cleaner energy. It's "cost effective, common sense measures to ratchet down smog and greenhouse gases too."
CARB aims to manage the transition, to make it as seamless, painless and equitable as possible.

* Basically, AB32 reduces emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 - a 15% cut from today - and already we have in place over half the emission reductions needed to meet that goal, mostly via the Pavley bill (AB 1493?)
* By 2020, 1/3 of electricity generated in CA must be from renewables (this would be suspended under Prop 23)
* A low carbon fuel standard - oil cos. will have a choice on how to meet it, e.g. compressed natural gas, electric fueling stations... - for a 20% drop in oil consumption
* Reduce car usage, via land use and transportation planning - it'd be voluntary for communities, with the carrots being CEQA-free infill development and (presumably state) transportation funding.
* Cap & trade, a mechanism originally promoted by the business community - put a price on carbon, so people can choose to make money by cleaning it up. The cap steps down gradually.

There were a couple of good questions asking what to do when an AB32 regulation proves unworkable - e.g. diesel particulate filters on trucks causing them to run poorly and get worse mileage - she answered saying that yes, they do revisit such regulations - you contact their ombudsman, who's their small business point person, and they look at the situation and sometimes lift restrictions or temporarily stop enforcement until they can figure it out & come up with a fix.

Another question was about an L.A. study projecting a huge increase in electricity costs; Nichols responded saying that electricity rates are projected to increase considerably in future, AB32 or no AB32, and that one of the things AB32 will do is protect us from price increases, since - via renewables - it'll reduce our vulnerability to price spikes via outside interests; though she didn't explicitly mention our Enron summer.

For a historical analogy of an earlier transition, she used the example of vapor-retrieval gas nozzles at gas stations, reminding us how stinky refueling your car used to be, and how gas station owners were not happy about installing the new equipment; yet now we take it for granted.

She freely admitted that California wasn't going to stop global warming, since we produce just 2% of global emissions; but said the goal is for us to pioneer solutions, to let us demonstrate techniques & technologies for others to buy; and to reap the benefits of being early adopters.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Anna for a fact-based discussion that I linked to in my blog.
I'm sorry I couldn't make it, but I auctioned off my reserved seat for carbon credits.
-Jeff P.

Michael said...

Hi Anna,

Good to see you at the mtg. This article is an excellent play-by-play of the meeting, thanks for putting it up so quickly. Sounds like you have already checked out George, Russ, and Jeff's interpretations.

BTW, that was my question about how to fix the "broken parts" of AB32 that led Ms. Nichols to suggest that disaffected small business owners call the AB32 Ombudsman, Laronda Bowne, at (916) 327-5762.

I am opposed to Prop 23 but there are some parts and pieces of AB32 that need work. I want Lowell Robinson and Ms. Bowen to become really really good buddies (-;

Michael A.

Don Pelton said...

Thanks, Anna, for the excellent report. We were sorry we had to cancel our reservations at the last minute, but you made us feel like we were there!

Michael said...


I'm trying to post here and having some trouble. What's up?


Michael said...

Can't seem to get this up on Jeff's site. Trying here now...


Hi Jeff,

I was there, and I agree that it was an impressive presentation. I'd guess the mix was 65% left and 35% right (if we're going to use that reductive standard of division). I'd say there were a lot of middle-of-the-roaders there for sure.

I recognized a Union reporter and Pascale from Yubanet. Lots of representatives of local NGOs, as well as Lowell Robinson and his entourage. A scattershot of politicians, but none from Grass Valley which seemed a bit weird. Maybe they were afraid of being seen near the recently completed Broad street repaving project, having failed to help pass a similar miniscule repaving tax that could have achieved the same goodness for their town (that shot was for Steve Enos :-)

Ms. Nichols was correct in explaining right up front that it would be inappropriate for her to discuss Prop 23, since her job is directly tied to the success of AB32. This is the kind of detailed disclosure and discussion that is required to prevent folks on both sides of the aisle from hurtling attacks of "rent-seeker" and "paid political operative" at each other. We all need to make a living, we all have our passions and paystubs, and as long as there is plenty of light on the details and we follow the law, no one should be attacking how we choose to earn our daily bread.

The one statistic she shared that really caught my ear was the top three consumers of petroleum in the world:

1. USA
2. China
3. California

Think about that for a moment...

One of the obvious reasons is that our transportation needs for a state with almost 40 million people (about 1/8th the US total) are made difficult by the distances we must and are willing to travel in order to live where we want to and where we can afford. California also has a car culture that is deeply ingrained, and that's not going anywhere any time soon.

One of the main reasons I live in Nevada County is because I fled the traffic jams of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where I grew up. Those traffic jams exist in pretty much the same choke points, with much larger volumes, now 30 years later. I lived in San Francisco and commuted to Silicon Valley by car for about 5 years (1983-88), on I-280 which was a great commute back then, but I still would have much rather spent those couple of hours each day on a train getting some work done.

That's how they do it on the east coast, but our west-coast car culture politicians haven't figured it out yet. AB32 is finally the possible answer and incentive to fixing this longtime problem. Ringing the Bay with BART alone would be a huge improvement to the existing wasteful and polluting transportation system (the same concept goes for L.A. and San Diego). The Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the Bay Area should be disbanded, and 2/3 of the Bay Area transit agencies should be abolished/consolidated.

Truck traffic in the state of California should be generally discouraged, except in rural areas where there are fewer options--trains are the right answer for freight and passengers in urban areas.

Reducing petroleum use for transportation in California will also reduce ozone by a large amount. My kids' lungs thank you for it.

Warren Buffet didn't buy Burlington Northern because he likes train sets. For him it's all about profit:

Michael A.

Michael said...

Thanks Anna, figured it out.

It's the Warren link. Yeah, I know.

going there now...

Anna Haynes said...

There was a Russ Steele kerfuffle in which he "fact checked" something Mary Nichols hadn't said; but in his post-talk discussion, I'd offered to track down the data on NevCo having worst air quality of any region outside of Calif. I haven't got an official source yet, but did find this Union article from 2003: Gasp! Our air among U.S. worst.
("Nevada County ranks 13th in the nation and 10th in California for worst air quality, the [American] lung association reports in its "State of the Air 2003." The county ranked 28th in 2002 and 50th in 2001.")

Here's the A.L.A.'s 2010 report for Nevada County - we still get an F - but I don't know where on that site its ranked against other U.S. regions.

Anna Haynes said...

Update, giving the correct "worst ozone" reference and more details -
(in short: Nichols was correct)