Tuesday, November 26, 2013

California emission regulations should be equal

I had nearly completed a column on the injustice of false equivalency of cars and trucks in California when I was prompted to scrap that and go back to the drawing board.

I was prepared to write about the unfairness of regulating commercial businesses as strictly as personal vehicles used for recreation and other purposes, when the reality of CARB’s uneven enforcement hit me.

The Golden State and its California Air Resources Board recently released an updated version of its AB32 Scoping Plan – the big picture formula it uses to measure pollution at the macro and micro level, and how specifically regulations and other forces will reduce air pollution to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

Though it is still in draft form, the 123-page document is a loose blueprint for future rules and will continue to be updated before likely being finalized by spring, according to CARB Spokesman David Clegern.

To read a draft of the plan, click here. To enter a public comment on the plan, click here.

After reading the draft plan, it appears CARB is trying to equate passenger cars and heavy-duty trucks. In one section, it mentions a 4.5 percent annual drop in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks. It then follows that up with a similar figure for big rigs.

I asked CARB whether the document attempts to equate the very different purposes and dynamics of trucking versus passenger vehicles. “If you look at the regulations we have in place, they really don’t equate the two,” Clegern said.

Clegern pointed to the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, which will require automakers to make increasingly larger percentages of vehicles for sale to be of the zero emission variety, including electric cars.

“With the zero emission vehicle mandate, about 90 percent of the fleet – passenger cars – is to be those kinds of vehicles by 2050,” Clegern said. “That’s quite strange in the structure or market there. Trucks are quite regulated already.”

True, but CARB has put the onus on trucking emissions on both truck manufacturers and truck owners. With cars, the focus is largely on automakers.

I told Clegern I agreed particularly with his sentiment that trucks are regulated more, which made me wonder why the scoping plan draft made it appear CARB was just getting started with trucking rules, particularly with paragraphs like this one:

“To date, ARB’s focus in the transportation sector has been on reducing emissions through the efficient movement of people,” the document reads. “Although ARB has adopted some strategies to address the heavy-duty fleet, more needs to be done.”

CARB’s opportunity to reduce emissions in freight movement is sprinkled throughout the plan, even as even larger emissions sources appear to be ignored.

One pie chart shows sources of black carbon in the air. Off-road vehicles create 31 percent of the black carbon, on-road vehicles 24 percent, and fireplaces 19 percent.

Nothing in the scoping plan indicates a future regulation on burning wood. Will CARB crack down on wood burning in fireplaces?

“It’s a guidance document; it’s not a regulation,” Clegern said. “We’re far enough out at this point that some of those things will remain somewhat open questions. We have to be open to adaptable technology and changing economics. We try not to trap the people we regulate into something that is too ironclad, especially this far out.”

CARB has opened the draft scoping plan up for public comment, and Clegern said all stakeholders are encouraged to voice their opinions about the plan.

“We want to hear from people on this,” Clegern said. “If they have an idea on how to reduce those emissions that they think will work, if they see something they think is particularly onerous, we want to hear about that.”

If you read the scoping plan, CARB’s tenor carries an air of moral authority that I’m sure stems from sincere intentions. Terms like environmental justice are mentioned when it comes to cleaning up smoggy areas around ports and urban centers.

If the state is serious about reducing emissions, I hope CARB begins treating car owners like they do truck owners. If California really means business with air quality, it should regulate fireplace burning as seriously as it inspects port trucks.

But that’s not the feeling you get reading that scoping plan. CARB’s AB32 Scoping Plan offers little equivalency, false or otherwise.