CALIFORNIA:

New year offers buffet of new state regulations

California has a new environmental regulation for just about everyone.

The grab bag of rules that took effect this week will -- among other things -- change the way Californians insure cars, buy light bulbs and build buildings.

Drivers for the first time can shop for "pay as you drive" insurance policies that will reward them for reducing the time they spend sitting in traffic. The first such policies, which are pegged to actual mileage audits, are now being offered by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and the Automobile Club of Southern California, with other companies expected to follow suit.

The idea behind the program, which was authorized by the state Legislature, is to reduce congestion and carbon output with a tool that some estimates say could cut vehicle miles traveled by as much as 9.5 percent. Accidents are also a factor, as a report by the Brookings Institution found that motorists who logged 5,000 miles a year had about half the number of bodily injury claims and less property damage claims than those who logged 30,000 miles a year.

Whether the program will be a success is anyone's guess, but officials in Massachusetts and New York City recently announced they are eyeing PAYD initiatives following the onset of the products in California.

Attracting just as much attention are energy standards that effectively make California the first state to ban the 100-watt light bulb. The federal standards went into effect in California on Jan. 1, a year earlier than anywhere else under language written into the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The rule says new 100-watt bulbs have to use 28 percent less energy than a traditional 100-watt incandescent light bulb. The California Energy Commission says the ability to implement the rule a year early will help the state avoid the sale of 10.5 million 100-watt incandescent bulbs in 2011, which would cost consumers $35.6 million in higher electricity bills, according to CEC data.

The rule doesn't affect the existing supply of incandescent light bulbs stocked in retail stores or incandescent light bulbs already in use.

Elsewhere, construction companies are adapting this year to a new mandatory green building code that will apply to all jurisdictions statewide, affecting architects, interior designers, engineers, contractors, building departments and other building professions.

The program, called CALGreen, requires builders to: cut water use by 20 percent with better plumbing; divert construction waste away from landfills to recycling centers; closely inspect energy systems to make sure water heaters and air conditioners are working optimally; and use paints, carpeting and flooring from green manufacturers that cut down on volatile organic compounds in such materials.

While federal buildings are exempt, Dave Walls, executive director of the California Building Standards Commission, recently said "99.9 percent of the buildings built in the state are regulated by these codes," in an interview with Green Technology magazine.

Also going into effect are rules that would ban toxins such as cadmium in children's jewelry and a program that would let offshore oil companies convert their drilling rigs into artificial reefs.

All in all, environmentalists see progress but said they are focused on much bigger policies, such as the state's climate change law, A.B. 32, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

"Innovations like pay-as-you-drive insurance and more efficient light bulbs will save money and reduce pollution at the same time," said Bill Magavern, director of Sierra Club California. "But much more needs to be done to save energy, reduce vehicular pollution and protect consumers from toxic products."

Sullivan reported from San Francisco.

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