December 18, 2017

The Future of California’s CARB Emissions Regulations

CARB Emissions Regulations

CARB Emissions Regulations

How CARB Emissions Regulations Will Impact Californians

With a new presidential administration moving into power earlier this year, California finds itself at a crossroads in regards to energy policy and regulations monitoring and curbing greenhouse gases. The decidedly different state and federal views on the future of environmental regulation seem to be diverging as the state of CARB emissions regulations begin to ramp its efforts toward emissions reduction by 2030 and the Trump administration’s moves to freeze EPA grants and the elimination of the Clean Air Act, CAFE standards, and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.  

California’s Climate Change Scoping Plan

In the California Air Resources Board’s (ARB) 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update – The Proposed Strategy for Achieving California’s 2030 Greenhouse Gas Target, submitted in January of 2017, “The Scoping Plan Update establishes a proposed framework of action for California to meet the most aggressive climate target in North America: a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.” The Scoping Plan Update goes on to discuss how it will “build on California’s success in establishing effective policies that are reducing emissions of greenhouse gases while delivering substantial economic and environmental benefits.” In the Update, ARB states California’s continued commitment to align with the rest of the world in the global effort to fight climate change, shifting the state away from a dependence on fossil fuels. In the words of Governor Jerry Brown at the Plan’s signing, the 2030 target will “keep California on the move to clean up the environment, to encourage vast innovation and to make sure we have the environmental resilience that… Californians really want and expect.”

In the first Climate Change Scoping Plan presented in 2008, which was required by Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), California led the nation in making strides to significantly reduce “greenhouse gases from cars, trucks, (the) fuels industry and electrical generation.” The new Plan was “ designed specifically to continue California’s leadership in the fight against climate change and (to) guide the State toward an equitable clean energy economy and prosperous future.”

What Does That Look Like For Californians

Proposed in the Scoping Plan, CARB emissions regulations will continue to promote its current cap-and-trade regulations, which according to their website states that “Cap-and-trade is a market based regulation… designed to reduce greenhouse gases from multiple sources. Cap-and-trade sets a firm limit or cap on GHGs and minimizes the compliance costs of achieving AB 32 goals…(while) trading creates incentives to reduce GHGs below allowable levels through investments in clean technologies.” In an ARS Technica article on the effectiveness of California’s cap-and-trade system, the health benefits resulting from such a program to minimize emissions and pollutants suggests that “Cap-and-trade had the smallest economic cost, and the health benefits were therefore able to pay for itself fully—four to ten times over… (but) for more stringent policies, (that) ratio is likely to drop.” Other programs proposed by the Scoping Plan include the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, an increase in lower-emissions and zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV’s), further regulation of the trucking and freight industries, an increase in state-wide renewable energy usage and a reduction in emissions from the agriculture and forestry sectors.

The Trump Administration’s Plan

While California aims to bolster its commitment to remain a leader in combatting climate change by slashing emissions and expanding renewable energy usage, at the Federal level things seem to be headed in a different direction under the new leadership of President Donald Trump, who in his first 90 days in office signed the Energy Independence Executive Order on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. Since being sworn into office, President Trump has expressed his interest in the expansion of offshore energy development, has assured Detroit automakers that he will be cutting taxes and environmental regulations on the auto industry and has put a freeze on EPA grants, contracts and operations. In an article leaked from his administration and published by Axios, plans include an “$800 million in budget cuts for the EPA, as well as plans to get rid of Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations for coal and natural gas power plants.” The Trump administration’s initiatives run counter to California’s ARB 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan, so how will these differing agendas intersect?

Political Divergence

CARB Emissions Regulations and the differing priorities of a new administration may come to blows in the coming months as the face of the EPA changes and regulations around the use of fossil fuels is limited in California but expanded nationally. Oklahoma Attorney general Scott Pruitt now sits at the helm of the EPA and has stated that he will be reviewing CARB’s current and proposed regulations, which currently operate under more aggressive air quality parameters than the Environmental Protection Agency. Based on a federal waiver written in tandem with the 1970 Clean Air Act, California is currently the only state in the nation granted permission to issue its own emissions standards, as long as their proposed regulations are at a minimum as protective of public health and welfare as the EPA’s emissions parameters. 16 other states have either adopted or are currently in the process of adopting CARB regulations and emission standards but they are unable to establish their own regulations, instead following national emission standards outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency.

What To Expect Next

California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan was under development prior to the onset of the Trump administration and was scheduled for further exploration over a set of multiple hearings in the beginning half of the year. CARB’s initial plans have no doubt been influenced by the differing priorities of the new administration, so changes will continue to unfold in the coming months and years as the role and scope of the EPA also evolves to impact California’s emissions-control autonomy. The specifics of how the Scoping Plan will impact California drivers and business owners has yet to be decided, but lawmakers, politicians and citizens remain more committed than ever to maintaining California’s reputation as the national and global leader in regulating emissions.  

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