California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was set to sign a historic bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions after it cleared the state legislature, making California the first U.S state to limit carbon dioxide and other gases accused of contributing to global warming. The state Assembly passed the measure in a 46-31 vote late Aug. 21. The state Senate had given its 23-14 approval in a vote a day earlier.
California is the world's 12th-largest emitter of carbon, "despite leading the nation in energy-efficiency standards and its lead role in protecting its environment," Schwarzenegger noted before the bill went to the legislature. The bill would cut the state's carbon dioxide emissions -- the principal contributor to global warming -- by 25% by the year 2020. It would require large firms that generate greenhouse gases, such as power plants, oil refineries and factories, to report their level of emissions to California's Air Resources Board.
However, the bill includes a provision allowing firms which exceed the cap on greenhouse gas emissions to buy "credits" from companies with below-cap emissions. This "cap-and-trade" provision was supported by Schwarzenegger, who says businesses must have flexibility in dealing with the emissions, but it was opposed by environmental groups, which feared it would allow polluters to buy their way out of the problem. The cap-and-trade approach also lies at the heart of the UN's Kyoto Protocol for curbing industrialized countries' greenhouse gas emissions.
Another controversial issue is the bill's failure to properly address what has become known as the "leakage" problem, by which utility companies can buy more power from out of state without having to produce cleaner energy. Twenty percent of California's energy needs come from outside the state. The bill merely says the state must "minimize leakage."
Businesses lobbied against the bill because they argued it would increase energy costs and make California less attractive to companies. "This bill would make it virtually impossible for California industries to remain competitive in the marketplace," Chamber of Commerce vice president Dominic DiMare said recently in a letter to California lawmakers.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006