Monthly Archives: December 2008

Lay of the land.

Couple months ago, the Pacific Institute put out a report, one in a series laying out a vision for California in 2030. Their overarching premise is that we have enough developed water sloshing around the state to get us through 2030, if we stop wasting it. They put out a volume on urban water use, but urban water conservation bores me to tears*, so I didn’t read it. They followed that with a report on the agricultural water use side. Since every last detail of irrigation is inherently fascinating, I read it breathlessly. They assert that agriculture can not only use substantially less water, but would profit by doing so.

Reaction to the report was mixed. It attracted a lot of attention, and in general people take what the Pacific Institute has to say pretty seriously. Some people liked it a lot. Others didn’t.

Enviros tended to like it because they see agriculture as the only potential source for the amount of water it would take to restore our rivers and the Delta. So much the better if agriculture can withstand the loss of that water and even thrive. Also, the Pacific Institute is talking big numbers, 3.5 MAF of water. That’s more than the size of the only proposed new dams that are real possibilities. We won’t need those dams if we can get that water from agriculture!

Ag didn’t like it, predictably. They don’t like being told they aren’t doing a good job at the livelihood that is also their identity. They especially don’t like being told that they aren’t doing a good job based on an outdated but widespread perception of their practices. They don’t like the implicit threat that the outside world is coming for the water they’ve always used. They (possibly mistakenly) see new dams as the only way of continuing their way of life, so they don’t like reports that suggest that dams aren’t necessary.

I’m sure you remember the sensational swirl of editorials, and how you yearned for someone to go through the report section by section and discuss each piece. You were hoping someone would look at it side by side a critique of the report issued by four irrigation professors. My heart heard your heart, dear reader. That’s what we’ll do this week.

*Here. I can tell you what it said. Meter water use and bill by volume. Fix leaks, big and little. Replace appliances. Switch out lawns and collect stormwater. That’s all good stuff, but just typing that bored me. I know you don’t come here to read boring things, so we won’t be talking about urban water conservation much here.

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Filed under Drought, Irrigation!

Exciting preview!

The stuff to write about is coming faster than I can work on it, but in the near term, I want to write more about:

A trio of reports on California agricultural water use.

Two rival lawsuits that are actually pretty amazing. As far as I can tell, both sides are going all in. Cental Valley farmers are suing to abandon endangered smelt protections. “Fuck ’em, they’re ugly minnows and they aren’t worth the cost of shutting down pumps.” Enviros are suing to have a judge shut down several hundred thousand acres of farms on the west side of the valley. “If the public trust doctrines and reasonable use mean anything, use them now.” This is a long-avoided challenge to what several legal doctrines mean, but I guess people want decisions bad enough to file high stakes suits.

I might write more on either of these, but I don’t have a lot to add:

The Legislative Analyst’s Office doesn’t trust the economic analyses in the AB 32 Scoping Plan:

We conclude that (1) the scoping plan’s overall emissions reductions and purported net economic benefit are highly reliant on one measure—the Pavley regulations, (2) the plan’s evaluation of the costs and savings of some recommended measures is inconsistent and incomplete, (3) Macroeconomic modeling results show a slight net economic benefit to the plan, but ARB failed to demonstrate the analytical rigor of its findings, (4) economic analysis played a limited role in development of scoping plan, and (5) despite its prediction of eventual net economic benefit, the scoping plan fails to lay out an investment pathway to reach its goals for GHG emissions levels in 2020.

A report from a well-regarded fish professor at UC Davis who says that most California fish species are DOOMED. DOOMED! I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of California fish species, but I will say that two of my friends who are out in the field all the time (one river-side, one ocean-side) told me separately and unprompted that wild California salmon will be gone within ten years. Ouch.

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Empty reservoirs, fires encroaching on houses, snowless peaks.

These are high drama pictures; you’ll suck in your breath as you click through.

I will say that the slide that said “Hope is not a strategy.” irked me a little. When the Governor declared a state of emergency for the California drought, why didn’t we immediately start to implement the State Drought Plan? Oh yeah. Because there isn’t one and no one contemplates writing one. There are some scattered concepts, like letting ag fend for itself and starting a drought water bank. But really. The state is flailing on this; there is no comprehensive strategy or prioritizing for droughts. Certainly no one thought to write such a thing in the several wet years we had in the early 2000’s.

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My take on the ARB Scoping Plan

What did I really think of the Scoping Plan? I skimmed it, really read the sections I was more interested in. I was mildly surprised that they think they can make huge reductions with low-hanging fruit, but I have no gut feeling for the scope of carbon emissions. They ran actual models and will show you their calculations and having no internal way to judge their predictions, I am inclined to believe them. I thought a couple other things.

When the first draft Scoping Plan came out, a predominant theme in the public comments was that the land use section and the agriculture section were too weak. Neither required enough emission reduction, both sectors got off too easy*. I laughed and laughed. Of course they did. That was foreordained. Edward Tufte says that any product looks like the entity that produced it. The California state government wrote the Scoping Plan, and the Scoping Plan looks just like the state government. All the little sectors divided out just like departments, with weak control over land use and agriculture.

The other thing I thought was that the Scoping Plan missed an opportunity. They laid out the reasonable sectors and asked people, hundreds of people, to say what you could do to reduce emissions in each sector. To my knowledge, what they never did was ask for any other kind of thought. If there is more out there, they’ll never hear about it that way.

And there is more out there. A very conspicuous example is that eating less meat and dairy will result in emissions reductions**, especially in California, which is a cattle and dairy state. But that gets no mention in the Scoping Plan. I thought the Air Board should have had a chapter called “Longshots, Crazytalk and Taboo”. They could have said up front that none of them would be mandatory in the first round of the Scoping Plan, so let loose! Who knows what they would have gotten. Who knows what the signal to noise ratio would be. But the cost of holding public meetings is pretty low, so if one or two ideas panned out, it would be worth it. The other thing that could happen is that it could flush some taboo ideas (an advertising campaign to reduce meat consumption) in a non-threatening way. It would have prepared the conversation for next time. But they never prompted people, “tell us something crazy, but might work”, and so no one did. We didn’t hear any new ideas in this round of the Scoping Plan (besides the idea of the plan itself), so I don’t know what is in the hopper for the next round, when the low-hanging fruit is gone.

*There are reasons, of course. Land use and agriculture aren’t point sources for carbon emissions, and Air Board staff wanted quantifiable amounts that they target with regulation. They didn’t feel the very first Scoping Plan could address diffuse, landscape size, hard to measure, hard to control carbon emissions. They thought they could get enough gains in the other sectors to meet their target. They knew the legislature was about to address land use. They figured they could work on the problem for a few years and come back to it in the next Scoping Plan. I’m sure they will.

**California grows feed for dairy and beef cattle. It takes energy at the pumps to move and apply water to the feed crops. It takes gas or diesel to tend and harvest the crops and move the feed. Dairies and CAFO’s are large sources of methane. Moving the meat takes gas or diesel. Reducing the amount of meat in our diet cuts down on all of those emissions very quickly, within a season.

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Filed under ARB, Scoping Plan

Mitigation and adaptation

In the broadest sense, people talk about two aspects of addressing climate change, mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation is preventative, trying to shape our society so we put out as little greenhouse gas as possible and avert as much climate change as we can. Mitigation tends towards energy, sprawl and transportation policy. In California, mitigation is being handled by the AB 32 Scoping Plan. The other state agencies pretty much think that the Air Board has got mitigation covered and are now thinking about adaptation.

Adaptation is the acknowledgement that we will suffer from the effects of climate change already underway, so we need to get ready for that. Adaptation will heavily influence water resources, disaster preparedness and response, coastal anything, natural systems like forests and deserts, biodiversity and agriculture. The agencies that address those are now looking fifty years out and guessing what we need to do to be ready for a harsher world. They’re starting to issue reports, saying what they’ll do and what they expect everyone else to do. I’ll tell you about those as they come out.

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Filed under Basic stuff

I, for one…

The California Air Resources Board* is likely to approve the AB 32 Scoping Plan today, which makes it as good a day as any to open this blog. You can watch Air Board meetings here.   What does that mean, that the Air Board is adopting the AB32 Scoping Plan?

Well, the Air Board is an executive agency, part of the California EPA. It reports to the governor. The Air Board is a board of political appointees. Actual people sit on this board and decide things. Used to be they decided things about air pollution, but that mission was expanded to include greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide.

AB 32 was a piece of legislation signed in 2006. It gives California until 2020 to cut carbon emissions to 1990 levels. It put the Air Board in charge of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, which pretty much means they’re in charge of everything everywhere. It was a very broad grant of authority to the Air Board. So what will the Air Board do as the boss of everything?

Well, they tell us that in the Scoping Plan. The Air Board just spent two years writing a Scoping Plan. They held meetings and meetings and meetings. They drafted chapters, one for each sector of the economy. They ran models and did calculations and figured out how each sector was going to reduce greenhouse gases and by how much. They released a draft, took public comment, and then released a very similar next draft.

The measures in this first Scoping Plan are pretty much the low hanging fruit. These are measures that are concentrated (kinda like point-sources) and quantifiable. They are efficiency improvements, taking up slack. The Air Board thinks that many of these measures will be profitable for many sectors, have quick pay-back periods. Industry groups aren’t convinced. So how will they make all these emission reductions happen?

Two ways. Once the Scoping Plan is adopted, the Air Board will spend the next five years writing regulations that make the measures in the Scoping Plan law. For every measure in the Scoping Plan, Air Board staff has to craft detailed regulations, setting thresholds and deadlines, defining who does what and who has to spend money to comply. This is where the real battles will be. The Air Board has worked so damn hard, full speed ahead for two whole years to get the general outlines worked out. This gives them the ability to work even harder the next few years, turning those outlines into specific regulations that everyone will hate.

The other intriguing way that the Air Board will reduce carbon emissions is that they are setting up a cap-and-trade system. Do I need to tell you what that is? Just in case. A cap and trade system means that you set a cap, a fixed amount, on all the carbon (or greenhouse gas) emissions in the state. That’s the ‘cap’ part. There is a pool of allowable carbon emissions, and if you are a refinery who wants to emit carbon, you better own some of that pool. You can buy a piece of that pool from the Air Board; they will sell it to you at auction. Or, you could buy some of the right to emit carbon from your buddy, who also bought some at the auction. You could buy it from a stranger. That’s the trade part.

Then you could think to yourself. Self, is it cheaper for me to fix my smokestack so that I don’t emit as much carbon or is it cheaper for me to buy the right to emit more carbon? Or, you might think, I bought a lot of the right to emit carbon at that auction. But if I fixed my smokestack, I could sell some of that ability to emit, recoup the money it cost me to fix my smokestack and MAKE BIG MONEY. Economists (and real people too) think that a cap-and-trade system finds the most cost-efficient way to get from the emissions we have now to the emissions level set by the cap. It may still cost money (or be profitable, depending on how much wasting costs now), but market theory says that all those people making individual decisions about buying and selling emissions rights versus improving their factories is the cheapest way to achieve the emissions reduction.

In the next five years, the Air Board will implement the Scoping Plan, forcing carbon emissions reductions through regulation and through cap-and-trade.  (The cap-and-trade system won’t just be for California.  California is doing it with seven other western states and western Canada.)  In five years, another version of Scoping Plan is due, one that sets the next level of winching down emissions.

So that’s the story for today. The Air Board is about to adopt the AB 32 Scoping Plan. Now you know what that means.




*People call the California Air Resources Board the Air Board, or Aye-Are-Bee, or CARB, one word, interchangeably.

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Filed under ARB, Scoping Plan