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LAO Report: California Greenhouse Gas Plan Lacks ‘Clear Strategy’

A new report from the Legislative Analyst's Office recommends that lawmakers direct the California Air Resources Board to clarify the document it approved in December or risk missing the state’s 2030 emission reduction targets.

(TNS) — The Legislative Analyst’s Office on Wednesday criticized a recently-adopted state plan outlining how California will meet ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saying it lacked “a clear strategy” and “specificity.”

The report from the agency, which advises the state Legislature on policy and fiscal matters, recommended that lawmakers direct the California Air Resources Board to clarify the document it approved in December.

If they don’t, the analyst’s office warned, the plan could delay action and increase the risk that the state doesn’t meet its 2030 emissions reductions goal. It could also hurt California’s standing as a leader in reducing emissions and limiting the consequences of climate change.

State law requires the air resources board to update its strategy every five years for achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets. In its 2022 plan, the board called for an aggressive reduction in emissions.

By 2030, the state is supposed to reduce greenhouse gases to a level that is at least 40% below what they were in 1990. The air board’s plan projected a 48% reduction.

To get there, the plan relied on assumptions related to driving habits, removal and storage of carbon dioxide and sales of electric appliances, the analyst’s office said. But the plan didn’t specify “how those assumed outcomes might be achieved.”

Without a clear strategy, the agency said it is uncertain whether the state will meet its current 2030 goal, let alone hit the estimate discussed in the plan.

“The lack of specific direction means that state departments will need to spend additional time and effort to identify and evaluate what policy changes will be required to achieve the intended outcomes before they can even begin the process of adopting and implementing those changes,” the analyst’s office said.

Matthew Botill, a division chief for the air resources board, said the plan was meant to establish a way for the state to reach carbon neutrality by 2045, meaning the amount of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere would equal the amount being removed.

Botill said it was supposed to serve as a guide for state agencies without telling them how to design programs to reduce emissions. Adding: “It’s somewhat impossible to dictate all of those requirements in one scoping plan document.”

The Governor’s Office praised the air board’s plan in response to an interview request.

“This is a roadmap – one of the most ambitious and detailed in the world – to drastically cut pollution and transition to clean energy,” Deputy Press Secretary Daniel Villaseñor said in an email. “Following a year of aggressive climate action, this roadmap helps lay the pathway for continued legislation and regulation.”

The agency’s review also faulted the state’s cap-and-trade program, which places a limit on emissions and allows businesses to buy and sell permits to emit carbon dioxide. The program is not stringent enough, according to the review, and is not “currently positioned to ensure the state meets” its 2030 emissions goal.

It recommended that lawmakers consider making changes to the program to address those concerns.

Botill said the air resources board is still reviewing the effects of changes to the cap-and-trade system that occurred in 2021. Even so, the division chief added that it was just one of many programs the state is using to try and reduce emissions.

©2023 The Sacramento Bee, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.