Three Obstacles To California Climate Progress

California’s AB 32  — the Global Warming Solutions Act — is the biggest and best thing going on the domestic climate change front.  The bill is sweeping in its application and the agency charged with implementing the Act, the California Air Resources Board, has moved aggressively to chart out the path the state will need to follow to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  But the state still faces significant obstacles to actually achieving those reductions. And the obstacles come from groups who are otherwise sympathetic to the overarching purpose of AB 32:  labor unions, environmental justice groups and mainstream environmentalists.   Here are three recent examples:

1)  The State Building and Trade Council of California has used state and federal environmental laws — the Endangered Species Act and the California Environmental Quality Act — to challenge numerous projects to create renewable energy supplies, as outlined by the LA Times here.  The council, acting under the name California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), has allegedly used environmental statutes to leverage contracts for its members by filing lawsuits and using the state’s administrative approval process to delay project approval and then dropping its challenges once it secures contracts.   The result is that renewable energy projects are taking longer to get up and running, making the state’s renewable energy goals — 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 — harder and more expensive to meet.

2)  Numerous environmental groups won a lawsuit last week blocking the U.S. Department of Energy’s plan to establish national transmission corridors for electricity, including one that would cover parts of Southern California.     The DOE used authority provided under the 2005 Energy Policy Act to designate transmission corridors that would be eligible for expedited permit review.  The Ninth Circuit found that the DOE made these designations without conducting legally required environmental reviews and without properly consulting the affected states.  The transmission corridor in the southwest would cut through Joshua Tree National Park and the Sonoran Desert National Monument and three million acres of wildlife refuges (the Piedmont Environmental Council has a map of the corridor here).  Many of the areas covered by the transmission corridor are also prime targets for renewable energy development and transmission lines are necessary to bring renewable energy to more populated areas.   The lack of transmission lines is a major obstacle, again, to the state meeting its 33 percent renewable energy goal.

3)  As detailed here and here, environmental justice groups won a partial victory last week — at least temporarily — when a superior court judge issued a tentative decision holding that the Air Resources Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act in approving the overall plan (called the scoping plan) that sets forth how the state will meet its AB 32 goals.  The ruling, if it stands, may slow down the board’s implementation efforts until the state can satisfy its legal obligations under CEQA.

I highlight each of the obstacles above not because the disputes necessarily lack merit.  The DOE decision to ignore mandated environmental review processes, for example, is highly problematic  — a transmission corridor cutting through environmentally sensitive and important areas that are home to sensitive habit and endangered species has obvious environmental impacts that need evaluation under federal statutes.  But the cases also highlight how difficult the transition to a low carbon economy will be.  Passing a bill is an obvious first start.  But implementing and enforcing it may be even harder.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “Three Obstacles To California Climate Progress”

  1. Dear Ann,
    You failed to mention the most important obstacle to implementation of California’s climate law – there are absolutely no demonstrable climate mitigation benefits whatsoever. It is a very expensive government program that harms an already slow economy and would not produce any measurable reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in California or anywhere else on earth.

    There is no scientific proof, nor any physical evidence to support the claim that atmospheric temperatures can be modulated by regulating carbon dioxide emissions. This is the major obstacle that is consistently ignored by the California environmental bar, but not by ordinary citizens. This is why there has been far more progress on climate policy in the US House of Representatives than in California.

  2. Hi Ann,
    This is a great post. I think one of the fascinating aspects of AB 32 is exactly what you mention – that traditionally supportive groups are finding specific aspects difficult to swallow.

    For me, the most credible objection comes from the environmental justice advocates, rather than conservationists. The EJ argument that the CARB rushed ahead with cap-and-trade without properly assessing alternatives seems to me to be very persuasive. This is also something that could have been foreseen, as EJ advisory committee members had said time and again that the analysis of cap-and-trade was lacking. So, at least on some of these points, the later difficulties could have been avoided with a little foresight.


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About Ann

Ann Carlson is currently on leave from UCLA School of Law. She is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and was the founding Faculty Director of the Emmett I…

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About Ann

Ann Carlson is currently on leave from UCLA School of Law. She is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and was the founding Faculty Director of the Emmett I…

READ more