Reports last month showed that California’s Air Resources Board miscalculated and overstated the state’s diesel pollution levels by more than 300 percent. This egregious error has major policy implications.
The ARB, responsible for researching, calculating and implementing California’s air quality standards, originally claimed that California’s off-road machinery uses one billion gallons of diesel fuel per year. The ARB now admits, however, that the actual number is closer to 228 million gallons. That kind of serious error in board findings demands a full examination of the need for more comprehensive environmental regulations.
The Global Warming Solutions Act is the primary case in point. Known more commonly as AB 32, the act instructs ARB to adopt far-reaching environmental mandates to reduce the state’s emissions and force changes in fuel usage. Specifically, the law requires that by 2020, California’s emissions be reduced to 1990 levels. Proponents of AB 32 claim that it will put California at the forefront of a new, green energy economy. But the state should never be subject to error-based regulation; nor can it manage the burdens of AB 32 regulations right now. California continues to suffer the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation, and Sacramento remains embroiled in heated budget struggles to tackle its $19 billion shortfall. Cutting emissions is a goal we all share, but ignoring the unemployment and budgetary implications and imposing new environmental standards on the basis of regulatory errors and miscalculations is severely damaging to both economic growth and environmental stewardship.
ARB’s 340 percent diesel emissions error should demonstrate to voters the need to ensure that other data behind the formulation of AB 32 does not also suddenly change. Proposition 23, a measure on tomorrow’s ballot in California, will suspend AB 32 until the state’s unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent or below for four consecutive quarters. This proposition is straight-forward and economically-sensible. In contrast, if AB 32 is fully enacted, energy prices will rise and businesses will be far less inclined to stay in the state, let alone hire more employees. AB 32 simply adds insult to injury.
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Prop 23 will give policymakers the opportunity to begin anew and craft environmental regulation that helps the environment, without making the state’s dire economic situation even worse. It is up to the voters tomorrow. If they pass Prop 23, better, more accurate analysis can be done; a more thorough examination of AB 32 can then be conducted, and, if necessary, new or improved ideas can be brought to the table.
If we are learning just now that the estimates for a 2007 draft law for diesel emission reductions were miscalculated by 340 percent, then who knows when new revelations may emerge about the data governing AB 32’s economy-wide mandates. It is essential, therefore, for policymakers and ARB’s researchers to revisit the act more closely. This will ensure that environmental policy is being adopted based on facts, not fallacies. AB 32 does not affect just off-road machine operators, but virtually every consumer and business in the state. Given this magnitude, California cannot afford another miscalculation.
ARB member Ron Roberts put it best last year, when he stated that the agency should be taking every step to assure Californians that “the science is proper to arrive at legitimate decisions.” Prop 23 is a big step toward that assurance and that goal.