California: A Bridge to the Future

The Golden State’s national leadership on environmental issues – never more important with the change of administrations in Washington, D.C. – includes its latest plan to reduce emissions of HFCs and spark adoption of natural refrigerants.

California Governor Jerry Brown, a longtime environmental advocate who acquired the moniker 'Governor Moonbeam' in the 1970s, came out swinging at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco last month.

The 2,000 or so earth and climate scientists in attendance were anxious about the incoming Trump Administration’s penchant for downplaying or denying the science behind climate change. But Brown sought to reassure them that his state – the most populous in the nation and one of the 10 largest economies in the world, as well as the 12th largest carbon emitter – would not backtrack on its ambitious climate goals regardless of national policy.

“We have the scientists, we have the lawyers and we are ready to fight!” declared Brown to thunderous applause. And he reminded them of California’s traditional and expected future role in leading the way for environmental progress in the U.S. “Our emission standards, our energy rules, drove U.S. policy. We will set the stage, we’ll set the example, and whatever Washington thinks it is doing, California is the future.”

In regard to fighting climate change, California led the nation in 2006 with the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act, or Assembly Bill (AB) 32, which establish a comprehensive program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sources. Since then, the state government has adopted a cap-and-trade program for emissions and updated its emissions reduction goal to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

On a global level, California has spearheaded the Under2MOU, an unprecedented alliance of 165 subnational jurisdictions (states and regions) representing more than 1 billion people and more than one-third of the global economy, which is focused on limiting global warming below 2oC. The state has also signed a number of agreements to work with other countries, including China and Mexico, on actions to fight climate change.

The state agency responsible for formulating and executing AB32’s emission-reduction rules is the Sacramento-based California Air Resources Board (CARB). “California is determined to continue to play a leadership role in fighting climate change and ensuring that all Californians breathe clean air,” said Glenn Gallagher, air pollution specialist at the CARB. “We know there are other like-minded states that will continue to join with us in these efforts.”

In addition to CO2 emissions, CARB is also targeting greenhouse gases known as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) – notably methane, black carbon (soot) and HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons); these “super pollutants” remain in the atmosphere for a relatively brief time but pack a powerful warming punch compared to CO2, the most common greenhouse gas.

"Science tells us that controlling [SLCPs] will buy time for countries to make the transition to clean energy while continuing to grow their economies," said Mary D. Nichols, chair of CARB.

In regard to HFCs (the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions), California’s Senate Bill (SB) 1383, enacted August 31, 2016, sets a target for a statewide reduction of 40% below 2013 levels by 2030. By phasing down HFC emissions from refrigeration, air conditioning and other sources, the state is surpassing the federal EPA and helping to shape the course of the HVAC&R industry in California and beyond, opening the door for environmentally friendly alternatives like natural refrigerant technology.

California began regulating HFCs and HCFCs in 2011 with its Refrigerant Management Program, which requires end users of more than 50 lbs. of high-GWP refrigerants to conduct leak inspections, repair leaks and keep records; the EPA only updated its leak inspection program to include HFCs last year.

But the state will go much further in reducing emissions of HFCs and other SLCPs, as outlined in its Proposed Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy; the document was initially released in September 2015 and revised twice in 2016, most recently in November. CARB will hold a public meeting of its governing board on March 23 and 24, 2017, when it will consider approving a final draft of the SLCP Strategy, which will be released prior to that meeting.  The board is made up of 12 members appointed by the governor, including scientific experts and representatives of regional pollution control agencies.

CARB is still assessing the HFC emissions reductions measures we need to take, in addition to the global HFC phasedown.”
–  Glenn Gallagher, CARB

The SLCP Strategy calls for SLCP emissions reduction to take place through a combination of voluntary and regulatory measures, including some that can promote adoption of low-GWP alternatives such as natural refrigerants. Among the proposed measures are: a ban on refrigerants with GWPs of 150 or more in new stationary non-residential refrigeration equipment and new residential refrigerator-freezers; a ban on refrigerants with a GWP of 750 or greater in air conditioning (non-residential and residential); and a prohibition on sales of high-GWP refrigerants (2,500 or more).

“CARB will focus on measures that can move low-GWP alternatives and technologies forward both nationally and internationally,” said the November edition of the Revised Proposed SLCP Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy. With its wide range of climates, California “could be instrumental as a proving ground for low-GWP refrigeration and air-conditioning technologies that can be used in extreme environments across the world.”

The November edition takes into account recent developments, notably the mid-October announcement in Kigali, Rwanda of an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for a global phase-down of HFCs. CARB will sponsor a third-party assessment of the impact of the Kigali amendment on HFC emissions and reductions in California.

SB 1383 requires CARB to complete and approve the plan by January 1, 2018, after which it will commence the rulemaking process, leading up to new regulations in 2018 or 2019. “As always, we will work closely with all stakeholders in developing common sense and cost-effective regulations to reduce high-GWP HFC emissions,” said Gallagher. 

CARB does not anticipate conducting its own HFC phase-down, “as long as the Kigali Agreement schedule proceeds as originally planned for the developed countries such as the U.S.,” said Gallagher.  Pending further review and analysis, he anticipates that the Kigali Agreement will result in HFC emissions reductions that could cover approximately 55% to 75% of California’s requirements (40% below 2013 levels by 2030).  As a result, he expects that additional HFC emissions reductions measures will be needed in order to satisfy those requirements.

“CARB is still assessing the HFC emissions reductions measures we need to take, in addition to the global HFC phasedown,” said Gallagher. The agency is also still determining the best start dates for additional HFC reductions measures and “may receive additional guidance from the board at the March meeting,” he added. “Those efforts may need to begin quickly in order to meet the target.”

To read the complete article 'California: A Bridge to the Future' in the January issue of Accelerate America magazine, click here.

By Michael Garry

Jan 27, 2017, 22:12

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