SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California’s decades-old quest to clean its infamously smoggy air by promoting solar energy and cutting fossil fuels is working, and at no detriment to its booming economy: Regulators said Wednesday the Golden State’s greenhouse gas pollution in 2016 was below 1990 totals, reaching a rigorous climate change goal four years ahead of schedule.
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown reiterated that not only is California setting and meeting the nation’s strictest clean air policies, it is upping the ante.
“California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress and delivered results,” said Brown in a statement. “The next step is for California to cut emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 – a heroic and very ambitious goal.”
Greenhouse gas emissions spiked in 2004 at 493 million metric tons, prompting state lawmakers to write and pass sweeping legislation.
Hailed as a worldwide model for climate change policy, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican – required the state to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. According to the latest annual tally, the state produced 429 million metric tons of climate pollutants in 2016 – just below the 431 million metric tons measured in 1990.
According to state regulators, emissions are down 13 percent from the 2004 peak while the economy simultaneously grew 26 percent.
“This is great news for the health of Californians, the state’s environment and its economy, even as we face the failure of our national leadership to address climate change,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board.
In its annual report, the board attributed the good news to a boom in renewable energy production and a drop in natural gas use.
Solar energy generation grew 33 percent in 2016 while natural gas decreased over 15 percent. Regulators say the state’s cap-and-trade system, which essentially taxes businesses for burning fossil fuels, has also contributed to the slashed emissions total.
The report breaks polluters into six different categories, with the main contributors being passenger vehicles, the oil and gas industry and electric power generation.
The air board compiles the annual statewide report largely through the cap-and-trade program. Businesses, utilities and oil and gas producers are required to track and report emissions and the information is then verified by a third-party agency. The regulator also uses data from various state and federal agencies to compile the emissions inventory.
California has seen even stricter greenhouse gas mandates under Brown’s watch. The fourth-term governor inked a climate change plan in 2016 which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.
Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. Kevin De Leon is pushing legislation to require the state’s utilities to be completely reliant on clean energy by 2045. An Assembly committee cleared De Leon’s Senate Bill 100 last week, advancing the measure to a likely floor vote later this summer.