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Posts from the "Greenhouse Gas" Category

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Sen. Steinberg Proposes Carbon Tax on Gas Instead of Cap-and-Trade

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

CA Senator Darrell Steinberg proposed a change yesterday to California’s nascent cap-and-trade program that would replace next year’s cap on fuel emissions with a per-gallon carbon tax. Steinberg called it a “broader, more stable, and more flexible” way to reduce emissions from fuels than cap-and-trade.

His proposal would apply the revenue raised from the tax towards tax relief for poor and middle-income Californians, who would feel the greatest pinch from higher gas prices. That could help defuse anger at having to pay more at the pump, while still discouraging demand for gas. “Under either [program], consumers will pay more at the pump. That’s necessary,” said Steinberg. “If carbon pricing doesn’t sting, we won’t change our habits.”

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

Reactions to Steinberg’s proposal so far have been mixed. The Western States Petroleum Association prefers it as “a transparent alternative” to cap-and-trade, and the Environmental Defense Fund criticized what it sees as a mid-stream switch that could “compromise” CA’s emission reduction strategies.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, said ”we strongly believe that California is creating an excellent cap-and-trade program that is, and will work, effectively. Yet a carbon tax is an extremely clear and straightforward, and ultimately more predictable, way to approach the fuels sector.”

“If this had been offered as a serious proposal seven years ago, we would have thought it was heaven-sent,” he added. “I don’t think it makes sense to reject it outright. It’s certainly worth having the discussion” about cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax.

John White of the Clean Power Campaign, a coalition of public interest groups working for clean fuels, says his organization has no official stance yet on the proposal. However, he said, “This is a good conversation to have. A carbon tax is a different way to do the same thing. The point of collection is also at the pump, but with cap-and-trade there’s no clear signal except for a higher price, and no predictability of what that price would be.”

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Governor’s Budget Earns High Marks, But Active Transportation Shutout from Cap and Trade Funds

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown officially unveiled his budget after days of speculation and leaked reports to newspapers. One of the highlights of the budget is how Brown proposes to spend the “Cap and Trade”* funds. Last year, the state borrowed against these funds to fill a gap in the general operating budget. This year, with $100 million “borrowed” from last year returned, the Cap and Trade allocation was a cool $850 million for projects that will improve air quality through green energy initiatives.*

“This budget makes an important down payment on repairing our aging transportation network, upgrading public transportation and investing in walkable, sustainable communities,” said Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm and a member of Secretary Kelly’s California Transportation Infrastructure Priorities workgroup.

The Natural Resources Defense Council was similarly excited by the proposed budget. In a post entitled “Carbon Pollution Funds Poised to Deliver on Clean Energy in California” on the Switchboard blog site, Alex Jackson praises the budget for spending Cap and Trade funds in a variety of ways that will reduce pollution and the state’s carbon footprint.

While conversations in the capitol will continue on the best way to maximize the benefits associated with spending cap-and-trade proceeds (and ensure each expenditure comports with legal requirements), the Governor deserves praise for putting forth a budget plan that recognizes the importance of investing cap-and-trade proceeds as a key strategy to keep California on pace toward achieving its long-term climate and clean energy goals.

But not everyone was thrilled with the budget. Despite spending the Cap and Trade funds on promoting clean energy, the cleanest forms of transportation, walking and bicycling don’t have their own budget line in the Cap and Trade allocation. True the overall proposed state budget includes a $9 million allocation for the Active Transportation Program, but when it comes to Cap and Trade, bicycle and pedestrian programs will compete for a slice of the $100 million for “Implementing Regional Sustainable Communities Strategies” with housing, planning, land-use, transit oriented development and other worthy livability programs.

“The Transportation Agency has worked productively with statewide walking and biking organizations to create a new Active Transportation Program that is prepared to invest in these modes at a scale never seen before in California,” writes Eric Bruins with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. “It is disappointing that no cap-and-trade funds are allocated to the ATP, despite everyone’s work to set it up for that purpose.  Hopefully the Legislature will again support walking and biking by directing significant cap-and-trade revenues to the most cost-effective, green transportation modes.” Read more…

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Golden State Could Be Sitting on Livable Streets Gold Mine

(The debate over how to spend the state’s cap-and-trade funding source was already hot last year. This year, it could become one of the largest transportation stories in the state, competing even with High Speed Rail. As such, Streetsblog L.A. welcomes op/ed pieces on how to best use those funds. Email ideas to damien@streetsblog.org – DN)

In 2013, a significant new opportunity to improve Californians’ mobility options emerged in the Active Transportation Program (ATP), which consolidates and streamlines funding for bike, pedestrian, trails and Safe Routes to School programs. Through the hard work of advocates, the Legislature ended up increasing the total allocation to the activities in the ATP by more than a third for the next fiscal year. At the same time, the potential exists for an even bigger funding increase in the next decade, in the form of proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade auction program.

With annual revenue expected to be in the billions, and a large chunk of proceeds slated to benefit disadvantaged communities, California has an opportunity to invest more aggressively and effectively in active transportation. However, the exact amount is far from guaranteed and many potential spending priorities will compete for a slice of the pie. With the governor’s preliminary budget scheduled for release on January 10, the time has come for our elected leaders to step up and invest in more livable streets and communities.

Cap-and-trade: California’s new revenue source

California’s landmark 2006 climate change law, AB 32, seeks to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below that by 2050. The law includes a comprehensive portfolio of GHG reduction measures, one of which is cap-and-trade — a cap on overall emissions in certain industrial sectors paired with a system of tradeable emissions allowances under the cap. The state will distribute some of the allowances by selling them at quarterly auctions. A great summary of cap-and-trade can be found here.

The program is just wrapping up its first year and applies only to large power plants and industrial operations.  Starting in the 2014-15 fiscal year, however, it will apply to distributors of fuel, including fuels used for transportation — a sector that accounts for 38 percent of GHG emissions statewide. The revenue potential is substantial: a Natural Resources Defense Council analysis, presented at a UCLA conference last February, estimates (pdf link) that total revenues could be as much as $8 billion annually once the program is fully up and running.

AB 32 revenue projection NRDC

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Gov. Brown Could Sign Bill to Help Finance Sustainable Development in CA

Governor Jerry Brown is poised to sign a bill that would enable cities and counties in California to finance regional smart growth plans and sustainable transportation improvements through the creation of Sustainable Communities Investment Authorities.

SB 1, authored by State Senator Darrell Steinberg, is aimed at restoring some of the financing mechanisms lost after Brown eliminated Community Redevelopment Agencies last year. Steinberg introduced a similar bill in 2012, but it was vetoed by the governor, who said it was too early to create new agencies with powers similar to the ones he’d just ordered dismantled.

Steinberg looks on as Brown signs a budget cutting bill in 2011. Photo:Zimio

The bill is aimed at helping municipalities implement their newly-adopted Sustainable Communities Strategies, which were mandated in 2008 with the adoption of SB 375. That bill, also authored by Steinberg and signed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was the first piece of state legislation in the nation to order the creation of plans to curb suburban sprawl and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

As regional agencies adopt these regional plans — the most recent of which was Plan Bay Area – it’s becoming more apparent that their implementation will depend on the funding needed to provide grant incentives for development near transit hubs and the walking, biking, and transit improvements to support them.

“The state is finally promoting regional planning for sustainable communities, but with few resources to get the job done,” said Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for sustainable transportation and housing policies. “SB 1 will help cities deliver walkable, affordable communities with great transportation options. What’s more, the bill includes critical language protecting residents and supporting production of new homes affordable to all Californians. SB 1 recognizes that a successful community must provide for all its residents.”

Jackie Cornejo, director of the Construction Careers Project at LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy), called SB 1 “an ambitious bill that seeks to create a whole new vision of equitable development for every community in our state.”

“We are very excited to be working on a bill that will leverage Los Angeles’ massive build out of transit and promote sustainable development nearby so we can all live and play near our work, have access to good jobs and affordable housing,” she said. Read more…

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Why You Should Be Angry About CA’s “Highest Gas Tax in the Country”

I know it’s tempting to gloat.

Today, newspaper headlines are blaring the news that with the newest increase in the state’s gas tax, that California now has the highest gas tax in the country.

As I said, I know it’s tempting.

But, it’s the result of bad policy. None of the money from that increased gas tax will go to fix California’s crumbling infrastructure, or restore and fund any local transit system, or paint an inch of new bike lanes. It’s all going to the general fund, thanks to Arnold Schwarzengger and a short-sighted legislature.

To balance the state budget in 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed, pushed for, and eventually signed a law that changed the tax structure for gas taxes with a so-called “fuel swap.” The new tax structure eliminated the sales tax on fuel and raised the excise tax. The purpose of the change was to eliminate funds that were dedicated towards transportation from the gas tax so that the Governor could balance the state budget with fewer cuts elsewhere and no tax increases.

After years of Governors Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis “declaring a fiscal emergency” to basically rob transit operations funds that were dedicated by voters in 2002 and 2006, the State Supreme Court ruled that there had to be an actual emergency, not just a lack of political will, to declare and emergency. It was at this point, that Schwarzengger devised the “fuel swap” plan.

The program also allowed the state to raise gas taxes so that the amount collected remains static even as the amount of fuel consumed decreases. If this meant a consistent level of funding for transit and road repair projects, the program might be more popular and useful.

But it doesn’t. As George Runner, a member of the state Board of Equalization that approved today’s increase noted when he voted against it, “The goal of the fuel tax swap wasn’t good  tax policy. Instead, its sole purpose was to allow the Legislature to move more than a billion dollars in gas tax revenues into the state’s general fund.”

The plan was met with scorn by newspaperstransit advocates and environmentalists when it was proposed. Today’s news is just the by-product of that bad decision.  Read more…

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Brown’s Budget Sends Cap and Trade Funds to Black Hole of General Fund

When California passed it’s land-mark Greenhouse Gas reduction laws in 2006, residents and businesses were assured that funds raised through the controversial “cap and trade” program would be invested in programs and projects that would further reduce emissions.

That promise is turning out to be a lot of hot air.

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown unveiled his budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that includes the first round of funds collected under the cap and trade system. In the budget, Brown “loans” the half billion in funds collected to the general fund to be paid back at some point in the unspecified future.

“We disagree with the Governor’s proposal to transfer the $500 million in cap-and-trade auction revenues to the general fund and postpone needed investments in projects and programs that could achieve greenhouse gas reductions this year,” writes Stuart Cohen, the executive director of TransForm CA.

“While we appreciate the Governor’s interest in taking a prudent approach to ensure that the cap-and-trade revenues are spent in ways that best meet the program’s goals of maximizing greenhouse gas reductions there are existing and proposed transportation projects and programs that these revenues could be invested in to meet these goals and reap significant economic and public health benefits for all Californians, especially disadvantaged communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. “

Brown’s budget announcement comes on the heels of reports that carbon concentrations have crossed the 400 parts per million threshold widely recognized as a dangerous level that could drastically worsen human-caused climate change. In recent months, environmental and transportation advocacy groups were arguing over how the cap and trade funds could be spent. Debates over questions on whether highway repair should be considered a project that reduces greenhouse gas emissions seem quaint when the state refuses to actually use the funds on climate change projects. Read more…

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Metro Takes a Stand on Cap and Trade Funds: Spend Them on Sustainable Transportation

Cap and Trade explained. If that first company can't find a trading partner, then they get fined. Image: Pon87

As part of today’s Metro Board meeting, the Board of Directors passed a motion calling on the state’s Air Resources Board to spend funds collected through the state’s cap and trade program on sustainable transportation funding.

California’s cap-and-trade program is the state’s primary strategy for reducing the State’s greenhouse gas emissions to meet emissions reduction targets as required by the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The largest portion of the state’s emissions comes from the transportation sector.  Advocates, such as TransForm California and Move L.A. argue that for Los Angeles to achieve long-term emissions reductions, they will need sustained investment in expanding public transit, biking and walking, and ensuring affordable and transit-accessible housing.

Governor Jerry Brown’s administration states that transportation must be one of the main areas in which cap and trade funds are invested. Brown and many environmentalists believe that these funds could be key for regions, and the state, to meet the goals set out by its landmark greenhouse gas laws SB 375 and AB 32. However, given Caltrans continued belief that expanding highways is a great way to reduce vehicle emissions, it is important that strict guidelines be in place for how cap and trade transportation dollars are spent.

The Metro motion doesn’t go as far as the call made by advocates earlier this month for cap and trade funding standards for transportation. The motion follows guidelines put together by the Transportation Coalition for Livable Communities (TCLC). These guidelines include: revenue from “fuel auctions” should go towards transportation, county government bodies should have control over project selection, funds should fund cost effective and innovative projects, and all cap and trade funds should go towards projects that advance the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

While conceding that the TCLC (and Metro) platform is a good one, TransForm’s Cap and Trade manager, Ryan Wiggins, explains the differences between his coalition’s proposed standards and that of TCLC/Metro. Read more…

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Advocates, TransForm, Move L.A. Demand that Cap and Trade Funds Go For Cleaner Transportation

California Air Resources Board meets in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Ryan Wiggins

When California created a “cap and trade” system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide, it was widely agreed the funds raised would be spent on programs that reduce these emissions in their own right. With nearly 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas coming from the transportation sector, it makes sense for a hearty investment in active transportation and transit.

Yet, according to Ryan Wiggins, the cap and trade Director for TransForm, many political figures and car-culture advocacy groups are arguing that cap and trade transportation dollars should go towards improving road conditions. By making it easier for vehicles to go faster, it will reduce the individual emissions of each vehicle. This logic is applied regularly when Caltrans and Metro officials argue about the need to widen freeways such as the 710 Big Dig Project or the never-ending 405 Widening Project in the Sepulveda Pass.

Yet many local advocates agree with Wiggins, that funding active transportation and transit need to be the priority when the state’s Air Resrouces Board (CARB) decides how to allocate its funds. Yesterday, CARB held a hearing in Downtown Los Angeles and advocates attended to make the case for a cleaner transportation network that creates transportation options and reduces emissions and transportation costs.

“ We need investment in transit, especially transit operating budgets, and active transportation infrastructure to support the GHG emission reduction goals of SB 375. Federal and state transportation funding has been stagnant and even declining for years”, said Denny Zane, Executive Director of Move LA. Read more…

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NRDC/Move L.A. Push Governor on Smart Growth Bill, Praise Regional Plans

Over the last year, three large regional transportation authorities have passed regional transportation plans that tie together transportation, land use, greenhouse gas emissions and public health mandated by S.B. 375 in 2008. Today, a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Move L.A. praises the Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego regional planning areas for passing these plans and promotes legislation that could make future plans even better.

Click on the image to see the full report.

Despite the passage of the first regional plans and the continued enthusiasm of S.B. 375, NRDC isn’t happy with the current state of plan. “…a plan is not enough,” writes Amanda Eaken at the NRDC Switchboard. “From the very beginning, we knew that we needed to bring new resources to these communities if we wanted to see the real change SB 375 envisions.”

As Streetsblog has discussed in the past, the new regional plans in San Diego and Los Angeles have significant drawbacks. In San Diego, local advocates filed suit against the plan arguing that transit, walkability and bicycling projects are pushed to the end of the thirty year plan so that highway projects can be funded earlier. They were joined in their lawsuit by State Attorney General Kamala Harris. In the Greater Los Angeles region, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health estimates a $40 billion need for bicycles and pedestrian projects. The plan allocates less than 3% of that need.

However, the authors have a solution: Governor Brown needs to sign Senate Bill 1156. Read more…

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AG Joins Lawsuit Against Highway-Friendly “Transit Plan” in San Diego

When the San Diego Association of Governments passed its regional transportation plan, which will direct transportation spending in the region for decades, the agency hailed the plan as a national model.  This was the first plan passed that followed the standards of SB 375, the California environmental law that set greenhouse gas reduction targets based on transportation and development planning.


Kamala Harris

The agency declared victory, but many local advocates weren’t convinced.

“If this is a national and regional model, we’re in bad shape,” Dough McFetridge of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation grumbled to Streetsblog last November.  ”We have a need — a tremendous need — for transit right now, today. This proposal puts funding transit off into so far in to the future that many of us won’t be around anymore.”

McFetridge and other environmental groups pressed forward with a lawsuit claiming that the EIR for the plan was flawed because it didn’t take into account the impact new highway construction would have on vehicles miles traveled.  This week their lawsuit received a major boost when California Attorney General Kamala Harris joined their efforts.

“The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country,” said Harris in a press release. “Spending our transit dollars in the right way today will improve the economy, create sustainable jobs and ensure that future generations do not continue to suffer from heavily polluted air.”

The lawsuit argues that the environmental review of the transit plan did not adequately analyze the public health impacts of the increased air pollution. The San Diego region already has a very high risk of cancer from particulate matter emitted by diesel engines and vehicles and there is no analysis as to whether this risk will increase.  By prioritizing highway expansion in the first years of the plan, SANDAG claims more pedestrian, bicycle and transit expansion in the plan even though those plans may never happen.  The bulk of the investment in transit and active transportation begins decades from now.

“The attorney general’s intervention in this case supports our argument that SANDAG’s plan is deeply flawed,” said Kathryn Phillips of the Sierra Club.  ”We’re encouraged that the State of California is serious about limiting air pollution and climate change pollution created by transportation in the region.”

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