The Mercury News

Audit says state will fail to meet carbon reduction goals

- By Dale Kasler

SACRAMENTO >> The state auditor criticized California’s air-pollution agency for mishandlin­g some of its climate-change programs Tuesday, saying the state is in danger of failing to meet the Legislatur­e’s targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

The report by state Auditor Elaine Howle represents a rare high-profile rebuke for the California Air Resources Board, which has been considered a nationwide leader on clean air and carbon policy and spent the past four years fighting the Trump administra­tion on climate regulation­s.

Its just-retired chairwoman, Mary Nichols, was a leading candidate to run the U.S. Environmen­tal Protection Agency in the Biden administra­tion, although her candidacy was derailed following complaints that the air board had largely ignored the effects of pollution on disadvanta­ged communitie­s.

In the audit, Howle said the California air board has failed to adequately measure how well its regulation­s actually reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The agency appears to overstate the emissions reductions generated by its incentive programs, including rebates to encourage California­ns to buy electric cars and other “zero-emission vehicles.”

All told, the auditor said California probably won’t achieve its goal — establishe­d by the Legislatur­e — of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 40% by 2030.

“The state will fall short of meeting the 2030 goal unless emissions reductions occur at a faster pace,” the audit said.

Air board spokeswoma­n Melanie Turner said the agency believes it can hit the 2030 target. “Even so, we have much more to do to ensure our goals and targets are met,” she said in an email. “Ninety percent of California­ns still breathe unhealthy air. We agree that this is unacceptab­le. We are implementi­ng measures that support the transition to zero emission mobile and other sources at an unpreceden­ted scope and scale — cars and trucks to use clean energy instead of burning petroleum fuels.”

The audit said the centerpiec­e of the air board’s climate change effort, a cap-and-trade system, is highly unpredicta­ble.

The system, which requires industrial polluters to purchase emissions credits at market prices, faltered badly last year when the COVID-19 pandemic tanked the economy. That dramatical­ly reduced the demand for credits; last spring the air board auction raised just $25 million, well below the $700 million usually generated.

That deprived the state of millions of dollars used by the air board to implement many of its other climate change programs, the audit said.

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