After several lengthy hearings and workshops throughout 2022, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has adopted a new update to the state's Climate Scoping Plan. The policy blueprint sets a framework for reaching carbon neutrality and slashing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) as much as 85% by 2045—at a cost of $27 billion to the state.
While CARB backed off on setting a goal for regulating pesticide emissions in the plan, board members remained committed to establishing a separate regulation as soon as feasible in response to a steady drumbeat of calls from environmental groups.
With deadlines for slashing climate emissions now set in state code, the board plans to adopt aggressive regulations over the coming year to implement many of the objectives.
“These are ambitious and challenging goals that we must meet to lessen the worst impacts of climate change and leave future generations a livable and healthy California,” said board chair Liane Randolph, in opening a hearing to adopt the plan last month. “Failure is not an option.”
Board member Sandra Berg later added that “this is not going to be easy but is absolutely critical.”
Agricultural groups have been closely following the agency’s push to convert medium- and heavy-duty trucks to zero-emission models (ZEVs) by 2040. A pending regulation will layer on more emission mandates for truck fleets and the Climate Scoping Plan encourages a tighter timeline for the proposal, directing the agency to convert drayage trucks at ports and shipping facilities to ZEVs by 2035.
Under the plan, food processing and other agricultural operations would transition 25% of their energy demand to electric by 2030 and ramp that up to 75% by 2045. The plan also seeks a 90% reduction statewide in natural gas demand by 2045. This means converting 7 million buildings to all-electric by that date, upgrading 6 million heat pumps by 2030 and banning the installation of new gas-powered appliances in residences starting in 2026 and in commercial properties in 2029. The California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission have already laid the groundwork for these goals through recent regulatory actions.
This is the first iteration of the Climate Scoping Plan to incorporate the natural and working lands sector and model how alternative management strategies could better contain carbon in ecosystems.
“It's not just a whole-economy plan,” said CalEPA Secretary Yana Garcia. “This is a whole ecosystem plan that recognizes that the way we steward California's land and water helps meet our climate goals and also helps us to achieve health and environmental benefits.”
The tedious effort to assess such a broad sector has exposed a variety of research gaps in understanding how the state can better support these lands as carbon sinks and how climate change has been flipping them into carbon emitters—due largely to farmland going fallow and to intensifying wildfires. CARB is taking the first steps to incorporate wildfire emissions into climate modeling, with the plan calling for a tenfold increase in fuel load reduction, though one board member dismissed that action as “extremely aspirational.”
The California Farm Bureau has raised alarms over the plan’s goal of converting 20% of farmland to organic to sequester more carbon. CARB staff downplayed the concerns, calling it speculative to assume that ramping up organic acreage would directly decrease overall crop yields and force the state to convert more land to agricultural production to account for the yield loss. According to a staff analysis, “an increase in land required for agricultural production is not necessarily an adverse environmental impact.”
California loses about 50,000 acres of farmland per year, mostly to urbanization, as the Newsom administration’s Strategic Growth Council discovered in 2019. When this happens, the carbon stored in the soil, along with the plant biomass, is degraded or released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
The California Cattlemen’s Association, meanwhile, expressed dismay over the agency supporting the development of feed additives to reduce enteric emissions from livestock while also promoting plant-based meat alternatives as being climate friendly.
The scoping plan also proposes implementing climate-smart agricultural practices on 80,000 additional acres of land each year and financing 5,000 more acres of conservation easements annually.
Hosting a recent stakeholder workshop with CARB board members and staff, Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) President and CEO Roger Isom stressed that steady funding for incentive grants is critical for enabling the industry to meet the state’s many climate mandates, especially as farmers struggle to adapt to new plans under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act while balancing high input costs, extreme drought and regulatory pressures that are “crippling the ag industry.”
“They’ve been enormously successful,” testified Chris Reardon, who directs government relations for the California Farm Bureau, referring to a 40-year track record of state incentive programs for air quality that have supported dairy digesters, manure management, healthy soils and equipment upgrades. “We also hope that you'll have an accessible tracking mechanism to measure the progress of these incentives.”
Reardon had assumed an advocacy role recently vacated by Taylor Roschen. Now representing a variety of agricultural associations at the lobbying firm Kahn, Soares & Conway, Roschen encouraged CARB to maintain adequate funding for the incentive programs. Achieving carbon neutrality in agricultural and rural communities, she argued at the hearing, will be complicated by a lack of infrastructure, connectivity, a dwindling land base, extreme weather events and affordability.
Like Isom, Dairy Cares Executive Director Michael Boccadoro has sought to educate CARB on agriculture’s climate successes to date. Last month he led staff on a dairy tour in the San Joaquin Valley, while explaining the challenges with electrification.
“Put simply, the local and regional distribution capacity does not exist to serve our existing needs, let alone our needs to electrify our operations,” said Boccadoro at the hearing. “We're also extremely concerned about rising rates. They're rising five to six times faster and three times higher than the rest of the country.”
The day before the hearing, UC Davis researchers released a report showing that dairies are on a trajectory to reduce methane emissions more than 40% by 2030, a target established by SB 1383 in 2016. CARB staff estimated the scoping plan would lead to a 66% decrease in methane emissions from agriculture.
According to UC Davis Agricultural Economist Daniel Sumner, a coauthor on the study, “measures to help offset mitigation costs, provide positive incentives for adoption of low-cost emission-reducing practices and help stimulate innovation in methane reduction are the economically efficient approaches.”
Boccadoro added that any suggestions that the incentive-based approach is not working “are frankly false.” Yet the report did not placate environmental justice advocates seeking to block incentives for dairies.
Olivia Seideman, a policy coordinator for the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, chastised the state’s landmark climate program known as the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) for considering biomethane derived from manure as a carbon-negative fuel. Seideman called that statement inaccurate and argued it “creates massive profit potential for the production of manure and consequent methane, water and air pollution.”
The criticism has gained traction with board members, who agreed that CARB—in coordination with CDFA—should conduct a full lifecycle analysis of biogas production and deployment. Such research would inform an update to the LCFS rulemaking, which will begin later this year. Jeanne Merrill, who recently left the California Climate and Agriculture Network to start a consulting firm, lobbied on behalf of the Center for Food Safety, arguing CARB should remove biomethane and other digester-related fuels from the program entirely.
Along with state grants for dairy digesters, the LCFS update could affect carbon credits for ethanol production. Last summer Gov. Gavin Newsom pressed CARB to make the LCFS rules more stringent and to set more aggressive targets throughout the scoping plan.
Neil Koehler, the co-founder and CEO of Pacific Ethanol, testified on behalf of the Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group for the ethanol industry, and stressed the need for a portfolio approach to reducing emissions that incorporates all alternatives to fossil fuels.
“The state must continue to support low-carbon liquid fuels during the transition,” said Koehler. “We don't want to lose sight of the goal, which is decarbonization. It's not electrification by itself, although that is a key pillar.”
He described higher blends of ethanol as “a large opportunity” for reducing GHGs. CARB has certified a 50% GHG reduction from ethanol compared to retail gas, and Koehler hopes the agency will certify the use of E15 in California and incentivize greater use of E85. With discord in Sacramento over exorbitantly high gas prices last fall, he noted that E85 is $2 a gallon less than gasoline in California.
As with LCFS, pesticides have moved into the crosshairs of several board members, after outcry from a broad array of environmentalists and community activists.
“We're disappointed that despite calls from [CARB’s environmental justice advisory committee] and our allies, demonstrating that pesticides are an environmental injustice and ultimately derived from fossil fuels,” argued Asha Sharma, a policy director at the Pesticide Action Network, “the scoping plan continues to lack any direct action on pesticides.”
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Sharma hoped CARB would commit to funding more research into pesticide emissions and develop resolution language that establishes a connection to climate change.
“It's not our turf,” acknowledged board member Hector De La Torre. “We have to engage with our colleagues and other agencies to make that happen. And we are doing that—18 agencies are involved in this process. We have to be considerate of them, their mandates, their policies, the way they work, etc., their culture. We can't just tell people what to do flat out.”
Board member John Balmes applauded the goal of increasing organic farming, reasoning it is “a healthier way to produce crops” while reducing pesticide use.
“This board has made a commitment to the environmental justice community to do more about pesticides. I'm not sure that the scoping plan is the way to do it,” said Balmes. “But we are going to keep pushing on pesticides.”
CARB Deputy Executive Officer Rajinder Sahota agreed the Newsom administration should develop a regulation on pesticides emissions, but she recognized “there has been the sense of no real home for it” within a single agency.
“[Environmental advocates] are agnostic on the tool,” said Sahota, in reference to the scoping plan. “What they want is the result, which is less application of harmful pesticides that impact human health.”
Another staff member noted that CARB is prioritizing research projects on pesticide GHGs, which will target nitrous oxide and impacts to soil health. Two days prior to the CARB hearing, CDFA hosted a multiagency seminar that delved into academic discussions over potential soil health implications. Environmentalists closely scrutinized the technical presentations for any details on the fumigant 1,3-D, the active ingredient in Telone. As with dairy methane, they called for a full lifecycle analysis of the environmental and climate impacts of such pesticides—beginning with the use of fossil fuels in manufacturing the chemicals and including any pollution involved in the transportation and emissions following applications.
At the CARB hearing, Olivia Seideman and several other environmentalists also railed against the scoping plan’s reliance on technologies to capture carbon from industrial smokestacks to store underground. They argued this contradicts the state’s climate ambitions by extending the lifespan of fossil fuel plants.
Yet board members recognized the agency has much more work ahead in fleshing out the many actions proposed in the policy document—and in exporting those policies to other states and nations. California is the only government entity in the world to develop such a comprehensive strategy for carbon neutrality, according to board member Daniel Sperling, a UC Davis professor and founding director of the campus’ Institute of Transportation Studies. He reminded the board and staff that California accounts for just 1% of global GHGs.
“We could go to zero [GHG emissions], and it would make no difference on climate change,” said Sperling. “The most important benefit of this [scoping plan] is that we are a model for the rest of the world.”
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