Infrastructure & Environment

California's Rules Already Stricter Than EPA's

June 3, 2014

When California launched its landmark global warming law in the final years of the George W. Bush administration, it was a risky act of defiance from a state frustrated by federal inaction on climate change.

Now, the federal government is trying to catch up — and that could position the state to cash in on its energy policy gamble.

California's laws are stricter than the Environmental Protection Agency rule, formally proposed Monday. The EPA would require the nation's power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions 30% by 2030 from 2005 levels.

If the rule is finalized in its current form next year, California can easily adhere to it. In addition, other states are likely to clamor for California's help.

That could translate into more than just vindication for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the other politicians who built California's system. It could also mean an economic lift.

"This is a great moment for us," said Mary Nichols, a longtime climate warrior who is overseeing implementation of the state's program as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board. "Our goal has always been to make California a leader and help push action by the federal government."

Nichols rattles off the ways California could benefit from the Obama administration's ambitious push.

The most obvious is through an expansion of the fledgling trading market for carbon pollution credits at the core of California's program. The state has been eager to see the market grow, because the bigger it gets, the cheaper clean energy is likely to be for the state's businesses.

There are also less direct potential benefits.

"When it comes to energy management, energy efficiency, the use of communication technologies for energy purposes, there are a whole array of homegrown industries here" that were started as a result of environmental laws, Nichols said.

California's many solar firms are among the businesses that see opportunities to expand if other states scramble to shift their energy strategies to renewable sources.

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