You have to hand it to the
One week before a crucial referendum on whether the Golden State will try to solve the world’s global warming problems, the CARB has released a complete blueprint of what the regimen will look like. Seasoned politicians usually wait until the election is over before showing their hand.
The blueprint is a monument to how complicated life can be if you don’t look for the simplest solution – in this case, nuclear energy. The state could simply build base load nuclear to replace the 40 percent of its electricity generated with natural gas. Then it could sponsor small modular reactors for factory settings. Oil refineries would have to be moved offshore to Mexico or Trinidad & Tobago, but that’s already happening anyway. At that it would have gotten rid of nearly all stationary carbon sources.
Instead, the state has a labyrinthine plan that bears a very close resemblance to the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House of Representatives. Utilities companies will be issued free carbon permits and then are allowed to sell them to the merchant companies that provide them with electricity. (The utilities were stripped of most of their generators during California’s electrical deregulation.) The utilities must then use the proceeds to give rate rebates to their customers, following the principle that no voter anywhere should feel in any way impinged by this effort. How the merchant companies are supposed to reduce is anybody’s guess. Most of them now burn natural gas and would have to build colossally expensive carbon capture systems to reduce any further.
Industrial sites all get different treatment, depending on their likelihood to pick up and leave the state. Cement manufacturers get the most lenient treatment. They don’t have to do anything until 2020. Oil refineries have until 2015. It’s anybody’s guess what they’re going to do. The utility program kicks in by 2012. The program also puts a tight rein on “offsets,” the ambiguous reductions in other sectors that have turned out to be such a scam in Europe. The CARB program only allows four possibilities – forestry management, landfill management, manure management and destruction of stores of refrigerants.
"This transition from the current state of the marketplace is designed to be gradual, rather than sudden," the regulators write in an explanatory section. "To ensure this is the case, staff is proposing high levels of free allocation to all industries deemed to have a significant level of exposure to carbon costs."
Environmental groups have worked hand-in-glove with the CARB in setting up the program and officials of the are serving as chief mediators in explaining it to the public.
The CARB’s bold move in releasing the details will be a fascinating test of its impact on the electorate. In recent weeks, Proposition 23 – the ballot initiative that postpones all this until unemployment declines to 5.5 percent – has been losing steam at the polls. It is now losing by about 10 points. Will the alleged moderation of the plan impress voters or will the prospect of seeing every industry in the state regulated for carbon emissions suddenly revive voter interest in Prop 23? We’ll know by tomorrow.