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Governor taps UC Davis professor to fight pollution

UC Davis professor and California Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling.

UC Davis professor and California Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling.

By now, if you don’t view climate change as a man-made phenomenon, you’re definitely out of touch with the mainstream. Even Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ostensibly is on board to do something about global warming. He recently tapped UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies director Daniel Sperling for one of the 11 seats on the California Air Resources Board—to the delight of environmentalists and ire of Republicans. Sperling will oversee the implementation of Assembly Bill 32, last year’s global-warming legislation, and also will be involved in developing alternative, low-carbon fuel standards.

What are you in charge of?

The two areas I’m going to be focusing on are the global-warming initiative, AB 32, and related actions; and, secondly, mobile sources, especially advanced vehicle technologies, such as the ZEV [zero-emissions vehicles] program.

AB 32 stipulates that CARB establish both emission regulations and a also mechanism for companies to trade pollution credits. Which comes first?

There has to be some mix of regulatory structure mixed with market-based approaches. The regulations form the framework, and then we use market-based approaches to achieve those reductions in as efficient and equitable a way as possible. …

I’ve been working closely on the low-carbon fuel standard, and that’s something that most of the oil companies have been quite responsive to and are helping us think through—how to design it most efficient and most effective. And the environmental community is also supporting it. So, I think there are many opportunities to have the different parties working together. There is an acceptance that we need to do something in the climate area.

Is there sufficient funding for fuel-cell research?

In general, there’s a need for much, much more [research and development money] in the energy area, in all aspects. We as a country, as a world, are spending less on energy R&D than we were 20 years ago. Given the huge challenges with climate, with oil imports, it’s urgent that we greatly increase R&D.

What is the role of mass transit in curbing emissions?

In terms of mode share, in terms of the amount of passenger travel, a very small percentage. Nationally, only about 2 percent of passenger travel is by mass transit. Mass transit plays a very critical role in our cities, for many reasons. But in terms of energy use, it’s a very, very small player.

What can everyday Californians do?

I think consumers need to understand that the choices they make have a large impact on how many greenhouse gases we emit, how much pollution we emit, how much energy we consume. In the end, consumers have to take responsibility for their own actions. The role of government is to send signals to consumers so that they are better informed and more focused on the implications of their choices, and to help alter their choices in a way that serves the public interest. And so, clearly, everyone understands and accepts that conventional oil supplies are limited. We have become more dependent on oil imports. Forty percent of our greenhouse-gas emissions in California come from transportation.

Is renewable energy part of the equation?

On the transportation side, we certainly have opportunities to bring more renewables in. In fact, the low-carbon fuel standard that’s under development now that I’m helping design is aimed at bringing more renewables into the fuel and transportation sector. The goal of the low-carbon fuel standard, as specified in the executive order by the governor last month, is to reduce greenhouse gases by transportation fuels by 10 percent by 2020. And I think that’s very attainable.

Is there a time frame for AB 32?

By July 1, ARB will be identifying a list of early action items that can be pursued more quickly than others. And those early action items would be finalized by the beginning of 2008 and would take effect by the beginning of 2010. The low-carbon fuel standard is expected to be one of those.