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Calif. moves to cap greenhouse gas emissions

California's legislature approved Thursday a landmark bill backed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that makes the state the first in the United States to cap man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
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Oil refineries like this one in El Segundo, Calif., will be among the industries affected by the cap on carbon emissions agreed to by state leaders on Wednesday.David Mcnew / Getty Images
/ Source: news services

California's legislature approved Thursday a landmark bill backed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that makes the state the first in the United States to cap man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan came after weeks of difficult negotiations and was sent to the state Senate, which approved it late Wednesday with a 23-14 vote. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.

The following are the main features of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which now goes to Schwarzenegger for his signature into law.

  • California, the world's 12th largest producer of greenhouse gases, will cap emissions at 1990 levels by 2020, approximately a 25 percent reduction.
  • By 2008, the California Air Resources Board will begin requiring reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by the biggest polluters.
  • By 2011, the state will set greenhouse gas emissions limits and reduction measures to go into effect in 2012. Failure to comply will lead to penalties.
  • The state board is allowed to draw up market mechanisms to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions, including carbon credit trading.
  • The governor can halt implementation of regulations for up to one year in the event of "extraordinary circumstances" like a natural disaster or economic crisis.

Governor hails agreement Schwarzenegger, who helped assemble the plan, called the agreement reached Wednesday to pass the bill "an example for other states and nations to follow as the fight against climate change continues."

“We can now move forward with developing a market-based system that makes California a world leader in the effort to reduce carbon emissions,” he said.

The bill requires the state's major industries — such as power plants, oil and gas refineries, and cement kilns — to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases by an estimated 25 percent by 2020.

The cap was praised by environmentalists as a step toward fighting global climate change. It was criticized by some business leaders, who say it will increase their costs and force them to scale back their California operations.

Republicans blasted the bill, saying it would have little effect and make California an expensive place to do business. "This bill is the road to economic ruin for California," said Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth.

State concerns, actions
The nation's most populous state is the world's 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases and could suffer dire consequences if global temperatures increase only a few degrees.

Reports by state agencies indicate that a 2- to 3-degree rise in temperature could melt the Sierra Nevada snowpack earlier each year, leading to flooding in the Central Valley and threatening the state’s long-term water supply for cities and farms.

In the absence of federal action, much of the effort to combat climate change has been focused in the states. More than 100 climate-related bills have been held up in Congress, including one that calls for a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

President Bush refuses to lobby for mandatory caps on carbon emissions, instead promoting voluntary steps and technologies that reduce or capture carbon.

Governor out in front
Schwarzenegger has tried to position himself as a leader on the issue. Last year, he issued an executive order calling for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010, 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

He organized a team that recommended a statewide cap, and last month signed an accord with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in which California and Britain will work together to research cleaner-burning fuels and technologies.

California has led the country in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through its renewable energy policies and a 2004 law reducing tailpipe emissions from vehicles.

Ten other states are poised to enact California's auto rule if it stands up to a court challenge by automakers, while more than 20 states have required utilities to eventually generate some power from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.

In addition to the emissions cap, California lawmakers voted to approve related global warming legislation. That bill would prohibit the state from entering long-term contracts with any out-of-state utility that fails to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. The bill passed by a 43-30 vote in the Assembly. It goes to the Senate for final approval.