California Tightens Rules on Emissions

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006

California's legislature approved the broadest restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions in the nation yesterday, marking a new stage in the accelerating drive for a more aggressive national response to global warming.

The California bill requires a 25 percent cut in carbon dioxide pollution produced within the state's borders by 2020 in order to bring the total down to 1990 levels. In at least eight other states, political momentum is building to take similar steps to limit emissions of greenhouse gases linked to climate change, a trend that could increase the pressure for a national system despite the Bush administration's consistent opposition to mandatory caps.

The California legislation also provides a statewide market system designed to make it easier for heavily polluting industries to meet the new limits. They would be able to buy "credits" from companies that emit lower emissions than the caps allow, rather than having to invest in cleaner new technologies.

The measure cleared the California Senate on Wednesday night. The Assembly, on a 46 to 31 vote, sent it on yesterday to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pledged this week to sign it.

"It really does point out the country needs to solve this problem in a uniform way," said William K. Reilly, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush and now co-chairs the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy. "It will rebound in Washington."

California lawmakers, along with environmental advocates and some business leaders, said they pushed the measure both to address what they see as a threat to their state's economic and environmental welfare, and to influence national energy policy.

"I really believe the effort to curb global warming is a bottom-up effort in this country," Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D), who is a co-author of the bill, said in an interview Wednesday. "For us, this is not just about California. This is about making a push from the bottom up to get the Congress to take action."

Advocates would have to overcome major obstacles to bring about a national program, however. Both the House and the Senate have rejected mandatory limits on carbon dioxide. But if Democrats make gains in this fall's elections, it could bolster support on Capitol Hill for a universal cap-and-trade system.

Congress would have to hash out many more details than are spelled out in California's bill. State lawmakers left key implementation issues to be decided by the California Air Resources Board. The measure also includes an escape hatch allowing the governor to extend compliance deadlines for as much as one year "in the event of extraordinary circumstances, catastrophic events, or threat of significant economic harm."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has her own proposal to establish a national cap-and-trade system, said yesterday's vote "is a giant step forward toward a national cap. . . . It's only a question of time." But she said that, when it comes to details, the state bill "does not have a methodology or a process. It just caps it."

Because 40 states have coal-fired power plants that account for much of the country's carbon dioxide emissions, Feinstein added: "Forty times two, in terms of senators, makes a bill very difficult."

On that point, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), an implacable opponent of emissions caps, agreed, citing the Senate's record on the issue. "Cap-and-trade proposals are all cost and no reduction," Inhofe said in a statement.

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