E&E reporter Sullivan discusses impact of EPA regulation on state's climate policy

How will California blend its own emissions law with U.S. EPA's emissions regulation? During today's OnPoint, E&E West Coast reporter Colin Sullivan discusses prospects for regulation in California and explains how California compares to other states that have their own greenhouse gas rules. Sullivan also discusses the latest on water issues facing California and progress on electricity transmission in the state.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is E&E West Coast reporter Colin Sullivan. Colin, it's great to have you in our DC studios.

Colin Sullivan: Thank you for having me, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Colin, California has long been the leader among the states on climate policy. But with EPA's impending regulation of greenhouse gas emissions the game is starting to change. How will California manage to move forward with its own regulations, but also comply with EPA's regulations?

Colin Sullivan: Well, California's position, their position at the California Air Resources Board is that they can continue with their cap-and-trade program and be sort of at the spearhead at the vanguard of a cap-and-trade system that would one day be implemented under the Clean Air Act. I mean they just passed their own cap-and-trade system that will apply across the economy, which is unlike what EPA is going to do to just stationary sources. So California's program is much more extensive. But California's position is there was a letter recently from Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the Air Board, to EPA that said, " I think our program will dovetail with what the EPA is doing." And that they also believe that EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to ultimately do a national cap-and-trade program it without legislation do so, which is a debatable point. I mean E&E Daily did a story recently where Rick Boucher said he does not think that the EPA has the authority to do cap and trade on its own under the Clean Air Act. So, it's something that we'll see.

Monica Trauzzi: So do you see the two programs competing at all or is this argument that they can coexist valid?

Colin Sullivan: It's sort of - I mean it's an uncertainty for sure, but people in California that we've talked to and a number of stories we've done recently have been saying they think that they can coexist and California can go ahead with what it's doing and then one day sort of mesh with a regional system that might combine with the RGGI system in the Northeast and some systems in the Midwest. And then ultimately, the optimistic view in California among people that are pro cap and trade that are at the Air Board are that one day they'll be able to mesh. But sort of the - you know, I think it's something that we'll see what happens. We've never been down this road before.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what's the latest on California's own greenhouse gas law?

Colin Sullivan: Well, last week they had a big vote in the Air Board to implement what would be the most comprehensive cap in U.S. history. That system will go into place in January of 2012. So the EPA's system that goes into place in 2011, there's 35 local air districts in California that will begin implementing the EPA permits on their own. They'll transition to the cap-and-trade program in 2012, which will initially apply to stationary sources, refineries, power plants, steel manufacturers, cement manufacturers and that will ultimately transition to transportation and transportation fuels in 2015. The idea is to cut 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. And so in California it's all systems go starting next year.

Monica Trauzzi: With federal legislation dead, how much of a shift do you think we're going to start seeing towards the states when it comes to lobbying and lobbying cash?

Colin Sullivan: I mean I think in California the lobbying -- or we might start seeing court lawsuits challenging AB32, the climate change law. So in California anyway, I think that what we'll see is -- well, I don't know that it will be lobbying, so much as shifting the money that they might have spent on lobbying and actually going in the court room and hiring lawyers do so there. I'm mean in California it's hard to say, and the rest of the country from my perspective, and the cap and trade is alive and well in California is what people think out there.

Monica Trauzzi: Another big environmental issue facing California is water. And bring us up to speed on what's happening with the canal that's been proposed to bypass the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta. I mean, what's happening there?

Colin Sullivan: Well, last week Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, held a press conference where he basically got behind the canal and he said the six federal agencies with jurisdiction over the delta, which is the biggest estuary on the West Coast. It provides drinking water to 25 million Californians. The six federal agencies that have jurisdiction over fish and water and various issues that affect the delta are going to start conducting environmental reviews, sort of the preliminary work on what would lead to a canal or tunnel around or under the delta to bring water from the north, from the Sacramento River, San Joaquin River to the south to farms and the agriculture industry. So it's all within this process called the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, which is a program that's been four years in the making. They have a draft plan out and Salazar's position is that they support the BDCP and part one of the big proposals under the BDCP is to build this canal. And it's likely a canal, maybe a tunnel, which is opposed by many environmental groups who say you're going to take more cold water out of the delta, which is vital for salmon recovery. And you're also -- it's sort of a boon to agriculture industry in the South, so --

Monica Trauzzi: But this is so important why? I mean what's the key water issue there?

Colin Sullivan: I mean the key water issue, it's sort of fish against farms when it comes down to it and the fish, a lot of people argue, need more water, need more cold water specifically. And I mean you have a whole -- and it's also -- I was out on the delta with the National Academy of Sciences panel that's currently reviewing the whole mess. And what's fascinating was to see -- to meet the scientists that were emphasizing how big a force tidal forces are in the whole thing. I mean you're talking about an estuary that's affected -- the tidal forces that come under the Golden Gate in San Francisco Bay are so strong that they affect the Sacramento River 90 miles to the north. So it's constantly shifting. So they're trying to restore tidal habitat even as these things are constantly shifting and trying to adapt to new factors and it's just -- it's a real, real -- it's a real mess, but the BDCP is their solution forward over the next 50 years.

Monica Trauzzi: The permitting process on transmission and renewable energy has often been criticized in California. Is California finally turning the corner on that?

Colin Sullivan: Well, depends on what you mean by turning a corner. But Schwarzenegger gave a speech last week that we did a story on where Sunrise Powerlink is a 117 mile power line. I think $1.9 billion is going to bring renewable energy from the Imperial Valley in the desert to San Diego, Southern California. And they finally broke ground on that and Schwarzenegger's sort of parting shot out the door was, you know, this permitting process here is so onerous that the sort of macro environmental goals have been subsumed under the micro/local environmental goals. And his message to local environmental groups was, you know, try to see the big picture. Try to see that renewable energy, bringing it to the coast and doing away with fossil fuel and natural gas-fired power plants is the big -- so, turning the corner, there's been a lot of stuff permitted this year and improved, lot of renewable energy projects. We'll see what the court challenge is as we go forward, whether or not those permits stand up. So, again, we'll see.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned Governor Schwarzenegger. He's been a huge energy and environment proponent during his time in office. He's about to leave and how do you think his absence will impact California's policy on these issues? And what role do you think Jerry Brown is going to play in all of this?

Colin Sullivan: I mean Schwarzenegger has definitely been a hero to the environmental movement, mostly because of AB32. But in recent years he's sort of - like expediting the permit processing process for renewables has been - he sort of clashed with some environmental groups there. I think Jerry Brown is going to be more of the same. I mean he's pro environment, he's pro AB32, he's pro renewable energy. He's not said a lot so far, so we'll see there. We don't know if he's going to keep Mary Nichols on board at the ARB, which would probably be the biggest staffing decision he'll have to make. But I would think, big picture, more of the same from Jerry Brown.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, great, thanks for coming on the show.

Colin Sullivan: Sure.

Monica Trauzzi: Nice to see you.

Colin Sullivan: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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