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Conference Zeroes in on Reducing State Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Mary Nichols
Mary Nichols

By Andrew Cohen

For decades, California has led the nation in strong and innovative energy policy. At an upcoming conference at Berkeley Law, the state’s energy leaders and lawmakers will explore how to leverage that success to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The State Bar of California event, “Energy and Climate Change: California’s Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Renewables, Fuels, and Markets” will take place Friday, November 14, at Booth Auditorium. Co-sponsored by the law school’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE), the conference features top energy officials such as California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild and California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chair Mary Nichols.

Recently named to Time magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people, Nichols has long championed cutting-edge technology to reduce greenhouse gases and improve fuel economy. Some of her recommended changes have become global standards.

“Berkeley is a great place for this type of event,” said Ethan Elkind, the center’s climate policy associate and one of the event organizers. “CLEE is a leading center for energy research and policy recommendations, and we have a lot of law students interested in pursuing climate change work.”

Nichols’ keynote address will discuss Assembly Bill (AB) 32 and California’s energy future. In 2006, the bill required CARB to develop regulations and market mechanisms to cut California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. “But that’s not enough,” Nichols wrote in an email. “Mounting scientific evidence underscores the need for increased efforts beyond 2020 to achieve climate stabilization.”

She contends that to meet the state’s long-term climate and air quality goals, California must “fundamentally change how we generate, transmit, and consume electricity; how we transport people and goods throughout our state; how we plan, design, and build our communities; the way we use water, energy, and other resources in our homes, businesses, and industries; and how we manage and protect our natural and working lands.”

Partners in progress

While California pushes toward its climate and air quality goals, Nichols notes that climate change is a global problem with worldwide impacts. “The reality is we cannot effectively address it in isolation,” she wrote. “California is working extensively with other states, as well as other nations to move us collectively toward a cleaner transportation system and lower-carbon economy. Among Western states and provinces, we have made significant progress toward putting a price on carbon.”

Ethan Elkind

On October 27, California, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia signed an agreement to price carbon, synchronize their respective reduction targets, and adopt low-carbon fuel standards. At the conference, participants will explore ways to forge similar partnerships to improve energy policy, air quality, and environmental justice.

Elkind will moderate a morning panel on how the renewable energy industry, guided by California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard requirements, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and still meet projected energy demand. Those requirements call for investor-owned utilities and electric service providers to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources to one-third of their total appropriation by 2020.

“While the general public strongly supports pursuing renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas, disagreements remain on how best to achieve that,” Elkind said. “Agencies are concerned about the costs of integrating this energy, utilities are concerned about the threat to their business model, and environmentalists are concerned about the impact of large-scale solar facilities within bio-sensitive lands.”

Hochschild’s address will outline California’s regulatory approach to renewables and greenhouse reduction. Afternoon panels will discuss integrating renewable energy into the electrical grid and the impacts of federal and state laws that require transportation fuels to become more renewable and less carbon intensive.

“California has long been out front on energy and climate change policy, and it’s great for Berkeley Law to play a lead role in pushing these important discussions forward,” Elkind said. “We want to respond quickly and intelligently to current events and help shape the regulatory landscape with input from top stakeholders who work in this area.”