California's landmark deal to require a 25 percent cut in
industrial greenhouse gases by 2020 is a largely symbolic victory
with only a tiny impact on climate. But it's one that could prompt
significant change in the nation's stance on global warming - and
give the state a competitive edge in future years.
The agreement, which has not yet cleared the state legislature,
would require industries - including oil refineries, chemical
manufacturers, and utilities - to slash carbon-dioxide emissions.
Coming just two weeks after seven Northeast states officially
approved a cap on CO2 emissions from electric utilities,
California's far broader measure could presage a growing push among
states to cut emissions.
Thus far, the Bush administration has resisted efforts to
institute federal mandatory reductions on CO2 that might increase
costs to business and harm the economy. Many California business
groups also worry the measure will encourage businesses to locate
"We are very concerned that this bill will send the message to
manufacturers in California and the rest of the world that it's
going to be tougher to do business in California," says Dorothy
Rothrock, vice president of government relations for the California
Manufacturers and Technology Association. The mandate "goes way
beyond measures that are cost effective," she adds.
California is the world's ninth-largest emitter of greenhouse
gases. But even the major cuts it is proposing will have only a tiny
effect because carbon emissions are growing so quickly, climate
"By itself it doesn't do much. It's main significance is in
providing leadership," says Robert Dickinson, past president of the
American Geophysical Union. "Even though this is just a little bit,
a lot of little bits add up."
The US is the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, with
19 tons emitted per person per year, while California emits 12 tons
per capita. If the US slashed per capita emissions to current
California levels, the US would cut its output to 1.7 billion tons
below the targets set by the international Kyoto agreement, state
The bill sets a cap on all of California's greenhouse gas
emissions, and requires them to return to 1990 levels by 2020 -
roughly a 25 percent cut compared to business as usual. The bill is
not specific about how to achieve it, but it says regulators may
adopt a trading scheme so that plants having trouble cutting
emissions could buy emissions credits from plants that have made the
Despite some business concerns, others have gotten on board the
energy efficiency train. Dow Chemical, which has four manufacturing
sites in California, has slashed its energy use nationwide by 20
percent over the past decade. The company's new goal - a further 25
percent cut by 2015 - dovetails with California's effort.
"If we put together all the existing policies not yet fully
implemented, that gets us a third of the way to meeting the new
caps," says Jason Mark, California director of the Union of
Concerned Scientists. …