California’s AB 32 Climate Change Legislation Update

California’s globally influential AB 32 climate change legislation received lots of attention when announced in 2006, but it’s harder to figure out how it’s unfolding as it goes through the policy meatgrinder on the way to the sausage factory (kudos to Winston Churchill!).

After dozens of public hearings for public and private industry input, the first major scoping report is due for completion Wednesday. From my sources, it looks like the main target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (and 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050) will be vehicle miles traveled.

The draft scoping plan for state recommended policies and programs is set to be released in late June for public comment, with a final report due in November 2008.

The main category slated for reduction, Transportation, is responsible for more than 41 percent of GHG emissions in California, unlike other states, where utility power plants are the primary source. Electric power is responsible for only 19 percent of Cali’s GHGs.

The state’s Air Resources Board, which is managing AB 32 implementation, is targeting Per Capita Vehicle Miles Traveled reduction as the best metric for cutting transport impacts.

The Board said in an agenda for a private forum to be held later this week that California cannot meet its AB 32 goals through technology alone: “reductions in vehicle use will be necessary.”

While this agenda also correctly states that “land use is a main driver of long-term reductions,” hopefully the Air Board and its private forum attendees will be addressing positive drivers–er, incentives–that can greatly limit future transportation GHG impacts.

Positive actions frame the issue so people, businesses and local government think of what they can do and how they can do it, not what they should do less (drive).

Shall we run through the list?:

* Use public transit more/ fund more public transit (reduces household GHGs by 10 percent if only one household member regularly uses public tansit!). And now that oil/ gas are ready to skyrocket further, keeps money in local economy much more effectively.

* Carpools, car sharing. Make it easy with HOV freeway lanes, employer and government incentives. Gotta love Post Carbon Institute’s Solar Car Share program that uses electric cars to reduce the need for GHG-producing vehicle ownership and use altogether.

* Walkability of neighborhoods, developments, cities. Require sidewalks (so much is built these days without them), safe cross-walks, nice streetscapes. Also reduces obesity, our nation’s number one health epidemic. Becoming a valuable real estate market feature.

* Mixed-use real estate development: Having jobs, retail and homes in same neighborhoods or development gets people walking and biking to work and shopping, schools and entertainment. The US Green Building Council’s LEED-ND standards are a good new benchmark for this approach, another attribute that increases real estate value.

* Plug-in hybrids for city fleets and city employees. Cities, their operating budgets and city-wide carbon emissions will fare much better with 100-200 mpg performance than 20 mpg.

* Communications and IT technologies that help people use public transit more effectively, and that help people carpool, car share or use co-working centers. Cisco and other companies are developing Connected Urban Development; I’ll be traveling to Brussels next month to meet with the European Union on this approach, as well as to propose land use and planning metrics that the European Environment Agency may adopt.

Stay tuned for updates of AB 32 progress as it moves down the pike.