The Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) unanimously resolved to commit the San Francisco Bay Area to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). Air Districts in California are a different kind of player. They can enforce regulations more stringent than state or Federal limits, and can directly charge polluters. This resolution has TEETH.
Let that sink in a little... Without any other legislation or authorization, this Air District is going to develop a plan and enforce a series of actions that will transform at least 80% of the stationary energy infrastructure in the nine county area within 4 decades. It will be no small feat. The region has a GDP of $535 billion (in 2011), which would rank 19th among countries. The Bay Area emits about 100 million metric tons of GHGs per year, more than many countries, including Sweden, Portugal, Israel and Ireland.
Accomplishing the 2050 goal of 17.6 million tons per year will be an exemplar extrordinaire of decarbonizing our society, and it can be done. Game on, Bay Area!
Click below the fold to see how it could work and how the resolution came about through grassroots work...
Where AB32 Leaves Off…
California famously is instituting a Cap and Trade program and is state-wide on track to reduce heat trapping emissions to its 1990 levels by 2020, in line with the AB32 law adopted in 2006. But the state only has an executive order “goal” (credit to Schwarzenegger) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 – no law supports it. This 2050 target is a good one for climate protection, though there are indications it will not be sufficient given the derth of global emission reductions currently. Politically, it is a viable goal.
The Air District’s Mission is literally, “To protect and improve public health, air quality, and the global climate.” Many cities and counties have Climate Action Plans (CAP’s) with significant emission goals. As the Resolution states, a number of Bay Area local governments have good goals:
The counties of Alameda and San Francisco have adopted goals of reducing GHG emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, and many other jurisdictions, including Contra Costa County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, and the cities of Berkeley, Burlingame, Daly City, Hayward, Millbrae, San Jose, San Mateo and San Rafael, have adopted goals of reducing GHG emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, through their adoption of the Sierra Club Cool Cities and Cool Counties resolutionsHowever, city and county powers are limited --often to just land use and whatever utilities are within their control. Funding is, well, problematic. They are not set up to monitor and charge polluters, nor deal with anything beyond their borders.
There simply was no significant regional climate plan. The Air District passed a general resolution in 2005 to establish,
a Bay Area Climate Protection Program to address climate change climate protection through District activities including outreach and educational campaigns, data collection, and analysis, technical assistance, have a regional conference on climate protection, and support and leadership for local efforts in the Bay Area to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.But this had no measurable goals. While the resulting program included a first-in-the-nation GHG pollution permit fee of 4.8 cents per ton of CO2, the few million dollars collected from that have had minimal measurable effect on emissions. Refineries and other major carbon polluters are routinely freely granted carbon pollution permits.
The NorCal Dirty Oil Refining Binge
Speaking of refineries, this region that is known for high tech, Silicon Valley, environmentalism, organic foods, wineries and tourism is also a fuel depot for California and the world.
The refineries are gearing up for more and dirtier crudes including Canadian tar sands and shale oil from North Dakota.
Don’t forget California’s own sulfur-laden Monterrey shale oil, now that fracking is greenlighted, thanks to SB4. All this points to more and more carbon pollution, when we need to be reducing it.
How the Resolution was made
Air District Board unanimous decision was unopposed and almost undramatic. The 22-member Board of Directors is made up of elected officials (county supervisors, mayors and city council members) from the 9 counties. Their awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis made it a no-brainer. But it took some ground work to get a good resolution to a vote.
While sought for years by an Air District Supervising Engineer, Janet Stromberg, the specific grassroots effort started a year ago when the fledgling 350 Bay Area group (separate but inspired by 350.org) held its first general public meeting and called for a “Carbon Fee” campaign. The 20 or so folks interested formed the Bay Climate Action Plan (BayCAP) Team, and strategized on what it would take to get the Air District to actually start significantly reducing emissions.
This campaign is unique. Protests and even letter-writing campaigns weren’t needed. It has a specific target: the Air District Board. It needed to deal with the Air District staff which has its own character. It is a technical arena with a strong Bay Area political context. The campaign found its champion in the new Climate Protection Committee Chair, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos. A well-crafted starter resolution, presentations to and endorsements by various environmental groups (including the three regional Sierra Club chapters), and targeted in-person lobbying were the main tactics.
The staff generated their own weaker resolution, but the groundwork had already been done with Climate Committee members agreeing to the stronger 350 Bay Area resolution. Avalos introduced amendments to strengthen the resolution, which passed unanimously through the committee.
How 80% Emission Reduction can be done
There are plenty of studies that provide a scientific basis for how to achieve dramatic emission reductions. One that was often cited by the BayCAP team was published in Science (Jan 2012) by Williams, et al. for California with 3 major steps:
1. Energy Efficiency
2. Decarbonizing Electricity (with wind and solar)
3. Electrifying Everything
Recently the work of Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson (see the Sept. 2013 webinar, or his appearance on Letterman, part 1 & 2) , showing how to achieve even greater and quicker reductions of 100% by 2050 and 80% by 2030 with wind and solar have been encouraging and referenced often. These visions of a clean climate-stabilizing future are notably not dependent on new technology. It is simply a game of political will.
Eighty percent emissions reduction in~40 years means 10% average reductions every five years will indeed take sustained strong political intention. The resistance is usually stated in terms of cost and jobs. That defense is weakening with the costs of not mitigating climate change becoming more apparent with droughts, heatwaves, wildfires and superstorms, (oh, and sea rise, floods, pest plagues, extinctions, health problems, ocean acidification, inability to irrigate the Central Valley, lack of snow pack, etc.). The jobs question as well can be trounced with facts, like that of California clean energy sectors job growth far outperforming the general economy.
The Air District’s Resolution is only the start of a long engagement. While absent so far, we are sure that Big Oil will fight in the rule-making game they know so well. This resolution means that the refineries Business As Usual growth plans for dirty crude, and indeed anything like their normal operation (40% of industrial/commercial emission sources in 2007) cannot continue. Their very existence is hereby threatened, both for their own emissions and the burning of their products. Can you hear the carbon bubble beginning to pop?
There will be program drafts, and public workshops and oil-soaked, er, -funded, politicians blocking action. The BAAQMD Board is looking for public support and acknowledges the importance of a public outreach effort so that everyone knows the importance of curbing carbon pollution.
What You Can Do
If you live in the Bay Area, you can join 350 Bay Area to get email updates, and either become a “Friend” of the BayCAP team or ask to join their active email group. If you live elsewhere, let your policymakers know about the BAAQMD Resolution, and encourage them to also be a leader in the climate game. As we know, the current score is grim (with CO2 blowing past 400ppm) and a turnaround is desperately needed. And as we know, it’s not really a game.