The Tragi-Comedy that is California Energy Policy

For the setting of this melodrama, we have California foolishly passing AB32 to reduce her greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent by 2010, 25 percent by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. She then directs the California Air Resources Board to develop the regulations to cap these statewide emissions. Enter dashing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wants to do his part to keep the sky from falling, too, and writes an executive order mandating a low carbon fuel standard by 2008.

California next turns to her loyal helper, the University of California, to figure out how to accomplish these monumental goals. Regarding the low carbon fuel standard and initial goal of reducing California’s passenger vehicle fuels by at least 10 percent by 2020, UC concludes,

California has or could have sufficient feedstocks to produce over a billion gallons of biofuels per year by 2020 in state, and perhaps even twice that amount. This amount can be compared to total projected light duty vehicle fuel consumption of 16.5 to 17 billion gallons in 2020, plus about 4 billion gallons of diesel fuel used by heavy duty vehicles.

But then they ashamedly have to admit:

However, the facilities to produce these fuels do not currently exist, some of the feedstocks listed in the table are not currently grown commercially, and many of the conversion processes are not yet commercially viable.

“But surely we can accomplish the goal of 80% reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in GHG by 2050 or 25% by 2020?” she cries. The California Energy Commission despairingly replies,

Despite creating scenarios that evaluate the consequences of aggressive penetrations of energy efficiency, roof top solar PV, and supply-side renewable generating technologies commonly under discussion in the electricity industry, no scenario achieves the 1990 standard of Assembly Bill 32 (Nuñez) Chapter 488, Statutes of 2005 and that California Air Resources Board is attempting to achieve through its ongoing regulatory program…Even the most aggressive scenario for actions currently identified for California—for example, Case 5A−does not reach the 2020 target.

Oh, no!! What do you mean she can’t accomplish her over-ambitious goals?

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for her, we see our dashing hero Gov. Arnold and his specially appointed California Action Team cohorts are actually in bed with some of California’s biggest carbon dioxide emitters, jetting across Europe on a lavish trip!!!:

The 9-day European junket, which cost $8150 per person, was paid for by the energy-industry funded California Climate Action Registry. CCAR donors include BP, Southern California Edison, SDG&E and PG&E, and executives with each company joined the European trip… “This European vacation gave some of the state’s largest polluters — including Edison, Chevron and PG&E — unparalleled access to key decision makers as they implement California’s greenhouse gas reduction legislation.


Then Gov. Arnold fires leaders of California Air Resources Board who say that the governor’s office said they were “moving too fast,” trying to actually reduce emissions rather than institute his wealth-transferring cap and trade policies.


Coming to the rescue is good-hearted Speaker Nuñez who is appalled at the firings and calls a hearing to investigate. At Friday’s power showdown he says,

As you know, AB 32 includes an aggressive timeline of actions to control greenhouse gas emissions. Those actions include developing a list of early action items, creating a mandatory reporting system, defining a baseline on emissions, establishing a cap on emissions, and evaluating different market based approaches to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, there appears to be some effort to short circuit this process because of a philosophical difference over one particular area — cap and trade. We’re not here today to debate cap and trade. That debate ended the day the governor signed AB 32. While AB 32 allows for cap and trade to be evaluated along with other market based approaches down the road — and that evaluation will determine how limited a role cap and trade is to play— it will be the regulations promulgated by the ARB that will make or break AB 32…The challenge of climate change is so complex and so charged with promise that many different agencies and interests have been looking for ways to get involved and carve out their own piece of the issue…So one of the issues I would like this committee to discuss today is what the pros, cons and logistics might be of changing the nature of the board from pleasure appointments to fixed terms, where members could be freed to act solely on science without fear of political pressure.

No more “pleasure appointments!?!”

So what will happen next? How will good-hearted Nuñez apply the news that his goals to cap emissions are impossible without destroying California’s economy? Will Arnold succeed in giving cap and trade handouts to his friends in the energy industry? Washingtonians and the nation — stay tuned to see how the California energy policy farce turns out!