Assembly Bill 32, the “California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006,” is a sweeping climate change plan that’s long on ambition and short (for now) on specifics. The gist is simple: By 2020, California must cut greenhouse gas emissions back to their 1990 levels. The Legislature didn’t say how to go about doing that, though, and no one’s even certain what our emissions levels in 1990 were. It’s generally thought that the 1990 levels were around 25 percent of what they are now—part of the bill requires the California Air Resources Board to figure this out by January. The bill is further complicated by various measures to ensure that the reduction is legally binding—which is what separates it from most other climate change and emissions reduction laws in the country.
AB32 is partly inspired by California’s past successes in regulating vehicle pollution and energy efficiency. Both programs were well ahead of the rest of the country when they were enacted, and served as environmental models for national legislation. The vehicle pollution legislation beginning in 1966 has reduced smog in Southern California and spurred huge innovations in vehicle emissions control. Energy efficiency legislation is largely credited with California’s per capita electricity use holding steady since 1975, while the country’s per capita use has increased 1.5 percent every year.