California’s carbon killers

California’s global-warming law contains dozens of programs, but most of the hard work will be done by a handful of major carbon-killing programs. Remember, the magic number is 174 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. That’s how much state regulators want to cut California’s greenhouse-gas emissions over the next 10 years.

• Cap-and-trade accounts for the biggest single chunk of greenhouse-gas emissions reductions. It’s also the most complicated and controversial program. The California Air Resources Board estimates the cap-and-trade system will reduce California’s carbon footprint by 34 million metric tons by the year 2020.

• California’s clean-car rule, also known as the Pavley regs—after then freshman state Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, who later co-authored Assembly Bill 32—will require automakers to reduce global-warming emissions from new cars and trucks by 30 percent before 2016. The Pavley regs, which have survived automaker lawsuits and years of stalling by the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, are now in effect. The Pavley rule is estimated by the ARB to reduce California’s greenhouse-gas burden by 31 MMTCO2e by 2020.

• California’s low-carbon fuel standard, which requires that transportation fuel sold in the state will be at least 10 percent less carbon rich by 2020. The rule accounts for 15 MMTCO2e in proposed greenhouse-gas reduction. But trucking companies and oil refiners earlier this month sued the state in federal court, saying the rule amounted to an unconstitutional tariff on fuels made out of state. That suit joins another legal challenge from Midwestern ethanol makers who say the law also unfairly discriminates against them.

• California’s renewable-energy goals, as put forward in the renewable portfolio standard. Requires electricity-producing utilities to meet a 20 percent renewable-energy target by the year 2010. Most of the big investor-owned utilities, like PG&E or Southern California Edison, won’t meet these goals—but lucky for them, the law gives them a three-year grace period. Last year, the governor signed an executive order setting much more aggressive goals for utilities—33 percent renewable energy by the year 2020. It’s not entirely clear how the utilities are going to meet this more ambitious target, says Peter Miller, chief scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But a lot of work is going on. There’s really a revolution happening right now in the renewable-energy industry.” Regulators are counting on the program to reduce greenhouse gases by 21 million metric tons.

• Strict regulation of “high global warming potential gases.” Tighter rules on a small but potent class of gases may be surprisingly effective. These are chemicals like refrigerants that are much less common than carbon dioxide but anywhere from 1,300 to 20,000 times more powerful in trapping heat in the atmosphere. This program is estimated to prevent a whopping 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (with an emphasis on the equivalent) from entering the atmosphere.

• Energy-efficiency programs will count for about 26 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent saved. The state is spending millions of dollars on rebates and tax credits for energy-efficient appliances and home improvements like weatherization and new HVAC systems.