Experts Tell California Lawmakers Carbon Neutrality Is Feasible

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Experts told California lawmakers Monday the state’s lofty goal of carbon neutrality is attainable and affordable through a sweeping plan centered around converting trash to energy, trapping and burying carbon dioxide and restoring wetlands and forests.

George Peridas of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory testified during an oversight hearing the state can meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045 for under $10 billion per year – less than 1% of the state’s gross domestic product.

“We found that by removing CO2 from the air, the state can achieve its goal at a cost less than what we currently spend to manage trash,” Peridas said.

A pedestrian walks past the stacks of the Valero Benicia Refinery in Benicia, California, in 2017 (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In one of his final acts as governor, Jerry Brown capped off a 2018 climate change summit in San Francisco by stunning the international crowd with news that he had issued an executive order committing California to the world’s most stringent climate target.

Brown, who made climate change policy a hallmark of his fourth and final term, said the world’s fifth largest economy would not just run completely on renewable energy by 2045, it would reach the holy grail of carbon neutrality.

To make good on Brown’s order, experts have been studying what they are calling negative emissions strategies – ways to scrub and remove CO2 already in the atmosphere.

In a new report titled “Getting to Neutral,” 20 researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and other institutions, including Georgetown University, University of Calgary and University of Queensland, Australia, map out ways for the state to counteract up to 125 million metric tons of CO2 annually. 

They say supplementing the state’s current efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions will allow California to bolster its “growing legacy of pioneering” the fight against climate change. 

Peridas told lawmakers implementing the negative emissions blueprint would not require any sort of technological breakthrough, just a reliable source of funding to cover a modest price tag and new infrastructure.

“We believe that the state has reached its Nike moment in climate mitigation; it’s time to just do it,” Peridas said.

The scientists’ three-pronged plan begins with the least expensive option of restoring the state’s woodlands, grasslands and wetlands and turning them back into “carbon sinks.” Removing diseased timber in the state’s drought-riddled forests could reduce the size and amount of CO2 emitted during wildfires and be converted down the line into biofuels.

The most effective approach would be turning the 56 million dry tons produced each year from trash, farming waste, fire prevention and sewage into various types of renewable fuels. The flux of clean fuel created from waste would reduce the state’s need for fossil fuels.

“Converting this biomass into fuels with simultaneous capture of the process CO2 holds the greatest potential for negative emissions in the state,” the report states.

However, the conversion process would be the most expensive of the strategies and would require new infrastructure as well as a reliable source of biomass.

The scientists also recommend a carbon-reduction technique known as direct air capture, in which machines remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere and store it thousands of feet underground. Places such the Salton Sea and the Central Valley would be prime candidates for storing carbon in California, according to the report.  

Potential implementation hurdles include figuring out ways to transport the biofuels and CO2 and building the necessary processing facilities. The plans would also require navigating a thorny permitting and regulatory framework and would likely need to be funded in part by taxpayers.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, expressed concern that the potential processing plants would be built in or near disadvantaged communities that already suffer from poor air quality. Peridas responded the plants would not harm air quality as they would be state-of-the-art and eventually reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned on state freeways and roads.

Garcia, chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Climate Change Policies, agreed that the state should be open to innovative and complimentary ideas as it strives toward carbon neutrality.

“The direction we move in isn’t always clear, but a sense of urgency I think is clear to all of us in the fact that we need to be creative and have a suite of items that we look at along the way with reductions,” Garcia said.

The informational hearing is the result of a 2016 law requiring the head of the California Air Resources Board to appear at least once a year to update lawmakers on totals and trends associated with the various layers of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mary Nichols, chair of the resources board, testified that in order for the state to meet its 2030 clean air goals and the 2045 edict, it will have to continue to press for electric vehicles. In her presentation, Nichols told the committee that all new cars sold in the state will have to be clean energy models by 2035 and that all vehicles on state roads must be zero emissions by 2045.  

Despite the state’s ongoing push to get more electric trucks and cars on the road, the transportation industry continues to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions at 41%, followed by the industrial sector, which includes oil and gas refineries (23%), in-state electrical generation (10%) and farming (8%).

The board compiles the so-called greenhouse gas inventory based on state and federal data, along with mandatory reports submitted by a variety of industries and facilities that emit over 10,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. 

Nichols added that the state’s housing shortage will also need to be addressed in order to cut down on commute times and added that public transit systems would have to be improved.  

“I think we know that when we in California are able to demonstrate the availability of our technologies and show how they can be deployed in ways that are economically feasible and actually generate economic investment, that we can lead the way and get others to join,” Nichols said.

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