Guest Blogger Ken Alex: Methane, Black Carbon, and HFCs

Post #5 in a Series on California Climate Policy by Ken Alex, Senior Policy Advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown

[This is the fifth post in a series expressing my view of why California’s actions on climate change are so important and how they will change the world. The introductory post provides an overview and some general context.]

One of the most important actions we can take to combat climate change is to halt the emission of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs).  Once again, California is leading world action.

The most prevalent climate pollutant, of course, is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Other emissions, however, also trap heat, and many do so with much greater potency than CO2.  The three primary SLCPs are methane (natural gas), black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs (a primary refrigerant).  Unlike CO2, which lasts in the environment for 100 years or more, SLCPs diminish over shorter time periods.  So, if we end those emissions, we will actually see a reduction in greenhouse gases, providing a bit more time for action.

Under SB 605, the Air Resources Board has developed an aggressive SLCP plan that has worldwide application, requiring by 2030 a 40% reduction of HFCs and methane, and a 50% reduction of black carbon.

In California, about 50% of methane emissions come from the agricultural sector – manure and agricultural waste—and the rest from landfills and oil and gas operation.  Methane is a usable product, so methane capture has economic value. Dairy digesters, composting, direct capture technologies are all available now.  We expect progress on methane capture to be rapid and consequential.

Black carbon results primarily from diesel emissions, coal, and open flame burning.  California has already slashed black carbon emissions drastically, and does not use coal.  Most of California’s efforts around black carbon will be aimed at the freight sector.  In the rest of the world, the problem is more entrenched, with coal as a primary source of electricity, open-flame burning for cooking and heating used by 1.5 billion people, and diesel fuel still prevalent for combustion.  California technologies will be key to change.

For HFCs, the world’s nations reached agreement in 2017 for phase out.

SLCPs have not received the attention that they deserve, but in California there is significant progress.  Our challenge will be to scale the California effort and to extent it to the rest of the world.

Next blog:  Working and Natural Lands

Ken Alex is the Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, and serves as Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Jerry Brown and the Chair of the Strategic Growth Council.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “Guest Blogger Ken Alex: Methane, Black Carbon, and HFCs”

  1. Ken Alex’s argument concerning SLCPs is hagiographic in tone and selective in disclosure. It ignores the features of SB 1383 that prohibit the state from taking strong mandatory actions concerning massive methane emission from the livestock and dairy industries. Below is an alert (encouraging a veto by Gov. Brown) that I wrote back in early September 2016 that present the negative features of SB 1383 that Governor Brown, State Senator Ricardo Lara, and then Assemblyman Das Williams rammed through the state legislature.

    The Dairy Industry Exemptions From Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction That Are Contained in SB 1383:

    Senate Bill 1383 (which was passed by both the CA Assembly and the CA Senate on August 31) now runs counter to the scheme established in Senate Bill 32 and Assembly Bill 197, which create sweeping reductions for all sectors of the economy and secured an important oversight role for the Legislature. SB 1383 encourages other industries to leverage public subsidies for compliance and secure regulatory relief.

    The version of SB 1383 approved on August 31 under intense pressure from the dairy industry carves out special exemptions, notably giving ARB discretion to delay implementation of regulations to require methane reductions at dairies and the discretion to backslide on the overall 40 percent methane reduction target, thus shifting reduction burdens onto other sources of methane emission.

    A veto of SB 1383 will not undermine important environmental justice and environmental goals because (1) methane sources are not exempt from SB 32; and (2) ARB will adopt additional, more stringent black carbon reductions to meet more stringent federal air quality standards.

    The Legislature should consider important waste diversion and fluorinated gas regulation in separate vehicles without placing unfair burdens on San Joaquin Valley communities who already suffer unacceptable air and water pollution conditions caused by significant dairy pollution.

    Dairy should not receive $50,000,000 in public funds from the GGRF (Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund) under these circumstances

    The seven year delay language concerning mandatory reduction target implementation for livestock/dairy-related methane emissions, as well as other bill language that limits enteric-emission-related methane reduction efforts to incentive-based mechanisms (which appears to mean “voluntary”, according to the actual bill language on page 8 of the actual bill language [see lines 9-11]), ensures that California will be prevented from implementing mandatory reduction target regulations that could drive a significant reduction in livestock/dairy methane emissions for at least 7 years (and maybe none ever at all concerning enteric livestock emissions, which constitute 30 percent of the state total for methane emission, at 0.455 Mt per year, or 0.997 billion pounds per year!).

    Livestock/dairy methane emission sources (enteric and manure combined) contribute a 7/8 Mt (Megaton) cumulative methane emission per year in California, or 1.907 billion pounds per year! Multiply those numbers by seven and one comes up with just over 6 Mt and roughly 13.35 billion pounds of methane that will likely be emitted over the 2017-2023 period in California that could be significantly reduced under a different scenario – but which can only be reduced if SB 1383 is vetoed by Governor Brown!


    The August 31, 2016 Senate Floor Analysis for this bill clearly states, on page 4, that SB 1383, as amended:

    “14) Specifies that the regulations shall be implemented on or after January 1, 2024, if ARB, in consultation with CDFA, determines that the regulations are technologically feasible, economically feasible, as specified, and cost effective and that they include provisions to minimize and mitigate potential leakage, and evaluate achievements made by incentives.

    15) Requires ARB, in consultation with CDFA, to analyze progress by July 1, 2020, toward achieving the methane reduction targets for the dairy and livestock sector, and authorizes ARB, in consultation with CDFA and stakeholders to reduce the methane reduction goal for the dairy and livestock sector if it is determined that progress has not been made in meeting targets due to insufficient funding, or technical or market barriers.”

    Also on page 4 and 5, the Senate Floor Analysis bill states that SB 1383, as amended:

    “19) Specifies enteric emissions reductions may only be achieved through incentive based mechanisms, until ARB, in consultation with CDFA makes specified findings, but authorizes voluntary enteric emissions reductions to be used toward meeting the methane emission reduction goals for the livestock and dairy sector…

    21) Prohibits ARB from adopting methane emission reduction regulations controlling methane emissions from dairy and livestock operation to achieve GHG emissions reductions other than those required pursuant to this bill.”

    In considering the value of SB 1383, we must ask whether or not our planet is facing a serious climate destabilization crisis. If our answer to this question is yes, then we must conclude that this bill cannot be considered an adequate response and should be vetoed by Governor Brown. The largest sources of methane emission in California should not be exempted from near-term mandatory reduction actions that can generate significant methane reductions very soon.

    Alert prepared by Todd Shuman, Camarillo, 805.987.8203, 09/02/2016

  2. Here is the proposed op-ed that I wrote in opposition to SB 1383, encouraging a veto of SB 1383. It went unpublished (and of course Gov. Brown signed the bill into law), but it remains germane in reference to the hagiographic Ken Alex SLCP piece above.

    Proposed Op-Ed Concerning SB 1383, by Todd Shuman, Senior Analyst, Wasteful Unreasonable Methane Uprising (WUMU)

    Governor Brown: Please Veto SB 1383!

    Governor Brown currently has a controversial bill resting on his desk. This bill – SB 1383 – was originally meant to regulate and reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), such as methane and black carbon. However, amendments incorporated into the bill at the very end of the legislative session would block initiatives that need to be taken very soon to reduce the massive methane emissions that flow from the livestock and dairy industries in California. For that reason, I recommend that the Governor veto SB 1383.

    SB 1383 prevents compulsory reduction standards from being established for the number one methane emission source in California (enteric emissions – cow burps!) while delaying for a full seven years any implementation of reduction standards for the number two methane emission source in California (manure-related emissions – cow poop!). It includes a monster loophole that will allow the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to reduce the dairy-related manure methane emission reduction standard in 2020. In the legislature’s rush to codify black carbon emissions reductions, it has thrown meaningful livestock-related methane emission abatement “under the bus” for nearly a decade.

    Opposition to SB 1383 is coming from both sides of the political spectrum. Asking for a veto from the left-of-center is an environmental justice coalition, led by the Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment. In a letter to Governor Brown, this coalition noted that SB 1383 will continue to impose “unfair and disproportionate burdens on San Joaquin Valley communities for years to come who already suffer unacceptable air and water pollution conditions caused by dairies.”

    Asking for a veto from the right-of-center is a business coalition, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, the Western States Petroleum Association, the Western Growers Association, and 14 other organizations.

    The business coalition issued a letter that argues that amendments to SB 1383 would likely create a disproportionate burden for non-livestock and non-dairy companies to meet statewide reduction targets for methane. It is no wonder that these business interests have organized to call for a veto, as reductions and delays in livestock-related emission obligations and requirements
    would significantly increase the obligations that other sectors must bear. This is inequitable.

    What is a reasonable alternative to SB 1383? Separate bills for methane, black carbon, and fluorinated gases, with robust mandatory emission reduction targets for each pollutant category and each human-caused emission source within pollutant categories. Reduction targets must be commensurate with the magnitude of each emission source: large reduction targets for the largest emission sources and smaller targets for the smaller emission sources. A methane tax is also needed that will apply to all methane emissions that go uncaptured and unburnt.

    While these measures may appear severe to some, they are approaches that should be considered if the state is to do its share in helping to prevent a miserable, over-heated future – a future that is arriving sooner than previously expected. As Dr. Joe Romm, Founding Editor of Climate Progress, reported recently:

    “NASA has reported that last month was not merely ‘the warmest August in 136 years of modern record-keeping,’ it tied with this July 2016 for the ‘warmest month ever recorded.’ And for 11 straight months (starting October 2015), the world has set a new monthly record for high temperature.”

    Given such context, it makes no sense to keep exempting the largest methane-producing industries in California from being compelled to comply with near-term mandatory methane reduction targets for at least another seven years. If Governor Brown truly intends to lead the world concerning climate disruption and environmental justice, he should recognize that the legislature made a bad move in approving SB 1383. By vetoing SB 1383, he can fix this mess and force the legislature to start over again.

  3. All is not lost. If California is unable to muster itself to effectively reduce the effects of SLCPs, national legislation could. When the political winds in Washington become more favorable, a carbon tax such as that proposed by Citizens Climate Lobby would cover methane and HFCs (but not black carbon.) CCL’s proposal includes the following

    “The Department of Energy shall propose and promulgate regulations setting forth CO2 equivalent fees for other greenhouse gases including at a minimum methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons, and nitrogen trifluoride.”

    Note that the proposal from the Climate Leadership Council, while similar, does not cover anything but CO2.

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