California considers itself a leader when it comes to enacting bold climate policies, but a highly anticipated roadmap to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions released by the California Air Resources Board last month has met fierce criticism from experts and environmentalists.
While the board has called the targets outlined in the Draft Scoping Plan its “most ambitious climate goal ever,” opponents say the proposal — a suite of policies that will shape California’s climate policy for years to come — does not go far enough to address the scale or urgency of the crisis. Instead, some argue, it will set the state well behind national standards.
At issue is the board’s decision to slow roll the phaseout of fossil fuels while also establishing a “carbon neutrality” policy that critics argue would incentivize the continuation of the fossil fuel industry by leaning on carbon capture technologies and offsets versus nipping emissions in the bud.
“Time is of the essence,” Ameen Khan, the regulatory affairs advocate with California Environmental Voters, a lobbying group, told The Examiner. “There’s no more kicking the can down the road. We need to get this right, right now because in five years, who knows? It could be a lot worse, and by then, it might be too late.”
Environmental groups like Kahn’s want the board to establish a target of near net-zero emissions by 2035, a decade ahead of the target set by the proposed plan. This would mean all-natural gas and oil extraction would need to be phased out at an accelerated pace, and emissions from agriculture, buildings and transportation would also need to be rapidly reduced.
CARB has defended the plan, saying the current iteration will fast-track the shift to zero-emission transportation, phase out the use of natural gas to heat homes and buildings and replace more fossil fuel-fired electricity with renewables.
Taken together, the air board asserts the plan will drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels and clean the state’s air, while balancing a broad range of economic, energy security and public health priorities.
“The proposed scenario is not only the most feasible but also the one that delivers significant benefits with the least disruption to the economy and jobs,” said Jordan Ramalingam, an air board staffer, during a public hearing.
But setting earlier and more stringent targets is something experts, such as UC Berkeley professor Daniel Kammen, said is well within reach. “Although my research indicates the state could actually become carbon negative by 2030, the draft proposal would delay reaching carbon neutral until 2045,” Kammen wrote in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.
“The draft plan calls for investment in new fossil fuel electricity resources, and it relies on unproven and costly carbon capture technologies that would lock in fossil fuel pollution. Adopting this approach would be lazy, nonsensical and racially unjust,” Kammen wrote.
Kammen and others have also expressed concern about the social cost of carbon — or rather, the cost of pollution from methane and carbon emissions that will continue to burden California’s most vulnerable communities, if oil and gas extraction and refining are allowed to continue.
The draft plan “is no more than gaslighting the climate crisis, which we in Indian country are already experiencing,” said Thomas Joseph, a Hoopa Valley Tribe member with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Extreme heat waves, low snowpack and wildfires have already caused havoc in our communities leading to loss of traditional foods, threatening our ways of being.”
These issues boiled over in a public hearing on Thursday that brought together a broad coalition of environmental advocates, business and religious leaders, academics and concerned citizens. It was the first time the air board took public comment on its plan — comments many hope will inform the final version, due later this year.
“For the first time, effectively in CARB’s history, have they seen this amount of movement across the state,” said Francis Yang, a community organizer at the Sierra Club. “We’re not just talking about clean energy; we’re not just talking about oil refining. We’re not just talking about asthma in children. We’re talking about the whole damn pie.”
The first scoping plan was developed in 2008 per AB 32, legislation that tasked the air board with overseeing California’s policy approach to reduce emissions and limit harmful air pollution. But even those within state agencies openly acknowledge that much has changed since this legislation was first rolled out.
“Every single Californian today knows that we’re living through a climate emergency,” said Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency. “This is not an abstract conversation about numbers or modeling or the economy or future jobs alone. This is about the very future of our planet and whether we can have one that is habitable for humankind.”
Advocates like Khan hope the process will compel the agency to adopt bolder measures in the final version. “This is our democracy in action,” he said. “There’s still time to make a better plan.”