The California Air Resources Board’s draft update of its plan to cut greenhouse gases in the state would allow a significant increase in new gas-fired generation, rely on technologies to capture and store carbon and put off slashing emissions from fossil fuels to 2045. Last July, Gov. Gavin Newsom called on CARB to evaluate strategies for achieving economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2035.
CARB evaluated four options for reducing fossil fuel use between 81-99% by 2035 and 2045, with staff selecting the alternative that would reduce fossil fuel use 91% below 2022 levels by 2045. It said it selected Alternative 3 “to allow for technologies to scale and be deployed at lower costs.”
There would be 10 GW of new natural gas-powered generation, according to the E3 modeling upon which the master blueprint for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is based. It also would rely heavily on direct air and carbon capture to reduce emissions from petroleum refining and other emissions-heavy industries, but it’s unclear whether carbon capture technology would be used on new gas-fueled generation. Numerous pilots testing technologies to capture and store carbon on a long-term basis have all failed.
CARB’s proposal released May 10 also expects to blend hydrogen into natural gas pipelines but does not limit it to renewable hydrogen produced by electrolysis.
The plan was panned by a wide spectrum of interests, from clean air and environmental justice advocates to fossil fuel proponents.
The draft Climate Change Scoping Plan “would result in building more gas plants, slowing the pace of the clean energy transition, and making a leap of misguided faith in carbon capture and sequestration, putting the Newsom Administration on the verge of taking a step backward on climate change,” said V. John White, Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies executive director.
“CARB must select a pathway to carbon neutrality that is faster and delivers significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and adverse health impacts,” said Sierra Club California Director Brandon Dawson.
The air pollution regulator’s support of carbon capture and sequestration comes as no surprise. Agency Chair Liane Randolph told a Joint Legislative Committee on Climate Change Policies in late April that the upcoming update of California’s plan for zeroing out climate pollution will call for direct air capture and sequestration. She claimed these technologies could remove up to 90% of the carbon in the air.
“CARB is basing their assumptions about carbon capture rates on the promises of oil and gas lobbyists, not the reality of demonstration projects on the ground,” countered Connie Cho, Communities for a Better Environment attorney.
Environmental justice advocates also object to CARB’s draft scoping plan, including because it fails to prioritize investments in zero-emission and affordable transportation and energy in low-income communities. “At a time when California needs to be phasing out fossil fuels, our top air regulators are bowing to fossil fuel lobbyists at the expense of our health and future,” Martha Dina Arguello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles and Co-Chair of CARB’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, stated. The California Environmental Justice Alliance urged CARB to do away with “ climate policy dead ends like cap and trade and carbon capture and sequestration.”
But a key lobbyist for the oil and gas sector, the Western States Petroleum Association, also rejected CARB’s draft scoping plan.
It “would impose more bans, mandates and expensive regulations that are designed to affect, as the report says, ‘every aspect of how we work, play and travel,” complained Catherine Reheis-Boyd, WSPA CEO. She said a new scoping plan needs to be affordable, flexible, and offer incentives for businesses to innovate in place of mandates.
Fossil-fueled vehicles, oil refineries, and oil extraction produce half of the state’s greenhouse gases.
CARB’s proposal melds with the California Public Utilities Commission plan adopted in mid-February to ratchet down the greenhouse gas emissions cap for the electric sector to 38 million metric tons by 2030. But the Commission also aims to drive them down to 35 MMT, and if reached, it will result in a grid that is 86% carbon pollution free by 2032, said Commissioner Cliff Rechtschaffen. Under the Scoping Plan, emissions for this sector would only drop to 30 MMT by 2045.
Southern California Edison was one of the few voices in support of the draft climate reduction plan.
The utility applauded “CARB’s continued efforts in identifying a technologically feasible, cost-effective and equity-focused path to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 that is in alignment with achieving California’s state climate goals.”
For the first time, the Air Board proposal also factors in emission reductions from forests, wetlands chaparral and other landscapes’ ability to store carbon.
It also directs the following.
- Renewable hydrogen be blended in natural gas pipelines at 7% energy for building and industry with an unspecified increase between 2030 and 2040, although the hydrogen is not limited to green hydrogen;
- Sales of appliances for existing homes be 80% electric in 2030 and 100% by 2035;
- Sales of appliances for existing commercial buildings be 80% electric by 2030 and 100% electric by 2045;
- Sales of light-duty vehicles be 100% zero-emission by 2035, in line with Newsom’s executive order;
- Medium- and heavy-duty truck sales be 100% zero-emission by 2040;
- Vehicle miles traveled drop 12% below 2019 levels by 2030 and be 22% lower in 2045;
- Carbon capture and sequestration be installed on a majority of petroleum refining operations by 2035;
- CCS be installed at 40% of cement, glass, stone and clay operations by 2035 and on all these facilities by 2045;
- Agricultural energy use be 25% electrified by 2030 and 75% by mid-century; and
- Food industry energy be 7.5% electricity powered by 2030 and 100% by 2045;
Public comments are due on the plan by CARB’s June 23 meeting in Sacramento.