September 14th, 2011


Office of Climate Change, California Air Resources Board

Food Project Attorney, Public Justice

Executive Director, Communities for a Better Environment

Legal Director, Western Energy and Climate Projects, Natural Resources Defense Council


It might be the only reference to Star Wars you’ll ever hear at Climate One. Reaching for an analogy to drive home the impact of a shrinking cap on carbon emissions in California, Kristin Eberhard, Legal Director, Western Energy and Climate Projects, Natural Resources Defense Council, asked the audience to remember the trash compactor scene from the original Star Wars.

“This is the cap for Chevron. That cap is coming down on them year after year after year. And they have to figure out what they’re going to do,” she said. “In the trash compactor, there’s no out. They’re in it. And that’s what we’re finding. These regulated facilities are realizing that the cap is not changing.”

“The problem with Kristin’s analogy,” interjected Brent Newell, General Counsel, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, to big laughs, “is that R2-D2 actually stopped the trash compactor. And they got out.” Replace R2-D2 in the analogy with political meddling and market manipulation and the two poles of a spirited exchange on the future of California’s cap-and-trade program held at Climate One on September 14 come into focus.

Eberhard and Edie Chang, Office of Climate Change, California Air Resources Board, argued that a regulated cap-and-trade system, coupled with renewable energy targets and improved fuel economy standards, will dramatically reduce carbon emissions and give communities relief from harmful localized pollutants. Newell and Bill Gallegos, Executive Director, Communities for a Better Environment, argued that regulators at CARB are choosing not to use their authority under AB 32, the state’s landmark global warming law, to target pollution at major industrial facilities, usually sited next to neighborhoods home to low-income people of color.

After reiterating that environmental justice groups firmly support AB 32, Bill Gallegos said that the lawsuit these groups filed to force CARB to scrap the cap-and-trade system was a last resort. “We went to court because we want to strengthen [AB 32], and strengthen it from the standpoint of the folks who are now suffering the worst from California’s air quality.”

“We wanted to ensure that, as we’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions, let’s get the other stuff that is really choking people and killing them right now – the mercury, the benzene, the NOx, the sulfur oxides, the particulate matter. We had a chance to do something good and, unfortunately, the Air Resources Board has not seized that opportunity. We’re still hoping that they will,” he said.

Edie Chang responded by emphasizing the rigor of the emissions cap, and the complementary tools CARB will bring to bear on major emitters outside of the cap-and-trade program. “One of the key points in the cap-and-trade program is that it provides an enforceable and declining cap on greenhouse gas emissions. We know we are going to get emission reduction,” she said.

In response to Newell and Gallegos’ concern about local sources of pollutants, Chang said, “We’re also initiating a rule-making to ensure that the seventeen largest industrial sources in the state are going to have to implement the cost-effective greenhouse gas reductions. Programs like that will make sure that localized communities experience air-quality benefits.”

– Justin Gerdes
September 14, 2011
Photos by Ed Ritger
The Commonwealth Club of California