By Melody Gutierrez and Kurtis Alexander
By targeting so-called super pollutants, California set an ambitious new course Monday in its fight against climate change that will have far-reaching impacts on some of the state's bedrock industries, from freight shipping to dairy farming.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law what he called the nation's strictest plan to cut emissions of methane, black carbon and other short-lived pollutants that can trap far more heat than carbon dioxide.
Scientists said if the policies California adopted were implemented worldwide, they would slash projected global warming by 50 percent. But the state's effort won't be easy, experts said.
Under Senate Bill 1383, California set targets to reduce methane, tropospheric ozone, hydrofluorocarbons and black carbon emissions, giving the state Air Resources Board until Jan. 1, 2018, to determine how those goals will be met.
The board's draft strategy calls for a number of initiatives, among them boosting statewide composting programs and capping the amount of emissions from cow manure.
The board wants to continue a steady shift away from residential wood-burning stoves by offering financial incentives, while phasing out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, the synthetic gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosol products.
Lawmakers said reducing these short-term pollutants could quickly improve air quality and public health in a state plagued by dirty air thanks to its hot weather, busy shipping industry, robust oil industry and explosive wildfires, among other factors.
"This is serious stuff," Brown said before signing the bill in front of a Long Beach playground, where the smokestacks from a nearby oil refinery could be seen in the background. "It's very hard to deal with something down the road."
The former Jesuit seminarian said, "When Noah wanted to build his ark, most of the people laughed at him. Why are you building this damn ark? Well, luckily he did. It saved all the species and Noah and his family. We have to build our ark too by stopping climate change, by stopping dangerous pollutants and doing it as soon as possible."
The measure requires a 50 percent reduction by 2030 in human-caused black carbon emissions compared with 2013 levels. Black carbon emerges primarily from wildfires, but also emissions from wood-burning fireplaces and diesel-fueled engines.
California has already cut man-made black carbon emissions by more than 90 percent since the 1960s through cleaner-running cars and trucks and bans on installing open-hearth woodstoves in new homes or remodels. The new law intensifies efforts to clean up the state's multibillion-dollar freight industry, which has already made strides in cutting pollution through better engines and fuels.
The law calls for a 40 percent reduction by 2030 in methane and hydrofluorocarbons compared with 2013 levels. It also seeks to cut how much organic waste is sent to landfills -- a 50 percent reduction target from 2014 levels by 2020 and a 75 percent reduction by 2025.
The bill faced some intense pushback, including from farmers and the dairy industry, who said the regulations would devastate their businesses.
But the bill's author, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens (Los Angeles County), relaxed requirements on methane emissions to win support in the more moderate Assembly, with required reductions from manure not taking effect until 2024 or later.
The regulation dialed back an earlier proposal calling for nearly twice the cutbacks, a compromise that prompted many in the dairy industry to withdraw their opposition. The new law also refrains from capping enteric fermentation -- burping -- by cows and livestock, advising that such emissions be controlled only when economically viable.
"This legislation is potentially reachable if the stars align," said Paul Sousa, director of environmental services for Western United Dairymen, an industry group in Modesto.
Sousa said it would be a matter of making the numbers work for most farmers. Reducing methane emissions can involve a number of strategies, from altering a cow's diet to capturing the gas and using it to generate electricity -- all of which come at a cost.
That cost, though, is not likely to be passed on to consumers, who have the option of turning to less expensive milk from other places.
Tom Mendes, who recently sold his 500-acre dairy in Riverdale (Fresno County), said the new law amounted to more pressure for struggling farmers. He got out of the business, he said, largely because of the expense of increased regulation, which included new wage requirements and greater scrutiny of air and groundwater discharges.
"It was just no longer profitable," he said. "You lost more money than you would make. California is an expensive place to do business."
An Air Resources Board spokesman, Dave Clegern, said the state believes farmers and other industries can benefit from forward-looking climate change policies like SB1383. For example, farmers who use methane-trapping technology that converts the gas into electricity can use that to power farms and, in the future, possibly sell their excess.
"There is serious money involved," Clegern said.
The board, he said, also sees potential for composting in the state to yield a bigger market for soil enhancers and other products.
"With the right programs in place, that could be a $400 million-a-year market," he said. "These are not just programs designed to stop people from doing something, but also to drive innovation that will lead to new jobs and new products."
Sen. Lara said the global impact of California's move is pivotal, but that he gained motivation closer to home, noting the health impacts of climate change and dirty air on children, particularly in parts of his Los Angeles County district.
"Ask the parents of children here in Los Angeles County or in the Central Valley or the Inland Empire about the debilitating effects of asthma on their children," Lara said. "Ask them to tell you about the missed days of schools and hospital visits."
(c)2016 the San Francisco Chronicle