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Slashing Greenhouse Gases: California Revises Strategy for Climate Change

“The Air Resources Board’s latest climate plan once again pins California’s future on a dangerous carbon capture pipe dream,” said Jason Pfeifle, a senior climate campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Caving to polluters who want to keep burning fossil fuels and dirty biomass energy is a one-way ticket to climate destruction. California needs a plan that rejects industry scams, preserves our ecosystems, and rapidly phases out fossil fuels.”

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In the 2017 version of their scoping plan, air board officials estimated about 38% of emissions reductions would come from cap and trade. Instead, it now would help “fill the gap” to meet the accelerated 2030 emissions target.
In the 2017 version of their scoping plan, air board officials estimated about 38% of emissions reductions would come from cap and trade. Instead, it now would help “fill the gap” to meet the accelerated 2030 emissions target.

By Nadia Lopez, CalMatters

The California Air Resources Board unveiled a new version of its highly anticipated strategy for battling climate change on Nov. 16, setting more ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gases and scaling up controversial projects that capture carbon.

If adopted by the air board at its Dec. 15 meeting, the plan would radically reshape California’s economy, alter how Californians’ vehicles, buildings and appliances are powered, and ultimately serve as a blueprint for other states and countries to follow.

“Failure is not an option,” said air board Chair Liane Randolph. “There is too much at stake and we need to move as fast and as far as we can to lessen the worst impacts of climate change and leave future generations a livable and healthy California.”

The five-year climate change strategy, called a scoping plan, outlines in its 297 pages how California could end its reliance on oil and also clean up the nation’s worst air pollution.

The staff’s final draft plan adds bolder commitments, reducing oil use by 94% from 2022 levels by 2045 — up from a goal of 91% in the September version of the plan.

The plan also sets a more aggressive goal of cutting carbon emissions 48% below 1990 levels by 2030 — up from the 40% by 2030 required under state law. Net-zero emissions would be achieved in 2045. (Net-zero or carbon neutrality means striking a balance between the carbon dioxide added to the air and the carbon that’s removed.)

California has a long way to go to meet the new 48% goal in just eight years. By 2020 it had cut emissions only about 14% below 1990 levels, according to air board officials.

Danny Cullenward, a climate economist who serves on a committee advising the state about its system for trading greenhouse gas credits, said California isn’t on track to meet its existing 2030 reduction target, much less the new, more stringent goal.

“I don’t want to say California isn’t doing anything on climate. We’ve done a lot of things,” said Cullenward, who serves on the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee. “But this is such a superficial exercise and it’s filled with so many faults and errors.”

Air board officials, however, said they are confident that the state can achieve the new target, largely with mandates and policies enacted this year. State officials phased out sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, set a more stringent low-carbon fuel standard and streamlined siting and permitting of renewable energy projects.

“This plan is a comprehensive roadmap to achieve a pollution-free future,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “It’s the most ambitious set of climate goals of any jurisdiction in the world, and, if adopted, it’ll spur an economic transformation akin to the industrial revolution.”

But Cullenward criticized the staff’s modeling, which is used to predict how each sector of the economy will reduce emissions. He said the plan lacks a thorough analysis of the feasibility of its projections and makes major assumptions.

One example, he said, is that the plan relies on other agencies, such as the California Energy Commission, setting new policies, but it doesn’t address the timing and roadblocks they may face or other details.

“It’s a pretty aspirational document but it’s filled with bureaucratic doublespeak,” he said. “It’s really frustrating because there’s so much work to be done.”

Some policy experts say setting ambitious goals is a crucial step toward cleaning up air pollution and combating climate change.

“The scoping plan can at least help us direct our attention even if it doesn’t give us as much detail as we want,” said Dave Weiskopf, senior policy advisor with NextGen Policy, a progressive advocacy group. “On the one hand, that is really frustrating. On the other hand, it tells us that if we put in the effort to say what we think a good plan should look like, we at least have a shot of getting the state to take meaningful action.”

The new plan relies more than the original versions on two controversial, advanced technologies for eliminating planet-warming carbon dioxide. Combined, 15% — increased from 5%  — of all of the state’s targeted greenhouse gas cuts will come from carbon removal and carbon capture and storage.

One strategy removes carbon from the atmosphere, such as replanting trees or storing it in soils. Another, called carbon capture and storage, collects carbon spewed from industry smokestacks and injects it into the ground.

California currently has no carbon removal or capture and storage projects, and air board officials say they wouldn’t be deployed until 2028. The state’s scenario predicts that carbon-capture technology will be installed on most of California’s 17 oil refineries by 2030 and on all cement, clay, glass, and stone facilities by 2045.

Environmental groups oppose both technologies, saying they extend the lives of fossil fuels, while oil companies say they are necessary to achieve the state’s long-term climate goals. The debate pits those who want to mandate an end to fossil fuels against those who want an approach that relies somewhat on technology to clean up carbon.

Globally, 27 carbon capture and storage projects are operating so far.

Oil industry officials declined to comment on the plan Wednesday.

Achieving the plan’s targets would cost $18 billion in 2035 and $27 billion in 2045, according to air board estimates. The move to decarbonize and transition away from fossil fuels will also drastically increase electricity use, which is expected to soar by as much as 68% in 2045.

At Newsom’s direction, the air board in September already strengthened its draft plan, originally released last May, to include new goals for offshore wind, cleaner aviation fuels and reducing vehicle miles traveled.

Other changes include constructing 3 million climate-friendly homes by 2030 and 7 million by 2035, installing at least 6 million heat pumps by 2030, and eliminating the option of building new natural gas plants or using fossil fuels in the electricity sector to maintain grid reliability.

Eliminating 100 million tons of carbon

Under a new law that Newsom prioritized in his climate package at the end of this year’s legislative session, the air board was directed to create a new program that puts guardrails on carbon capture, use and storage projects while streamlining the permitting process.

These technologies aim to remove or capture and store at least 20 million metric tons of carbon by 2030 and 100 million metric tons by 2045, according to the plan.

Once captured from smokestacks, the carbon could be transported to sites in the Central Valley. Air board staff say the valley is an ideal location for injecting carbon dioxide deep into rock formations because it has the capacity to store at least 17 billion tons.

Though controversial, air board staff say the technologies are a “necessary tool” to reduce emissions from industrial sectors, such as the cement industry, where no other alternatives may exist.

“We’ve squeezed out all of the emissions that we can under the inventory for manufacturing for transportation and for industry, but we know residual emissions will remain,” said Rajinder Sahota, the board’s deputy executive officer for climate change and research. “We’re going to need all the tools in all of these categories.”

But at an Oct. 28 workshop, members of the state’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee raised several concerns about engineered carbon removal, saying it is an unproven strategy that could continue to plague local communities with air pollution. They also say it would delay closure of oil facilities and act as a substitute for direct emissions reductions.

“The Air Resources Board’s latest climate plan once again pins California’s future on a dangerous carbon capture pipe dream,” said Jason Pfeifle, a senior climate campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Caving to polluters who want to keep burning fossil fuels and dirty biomass energy is a one-way ticket to climate destruction. California needs a plan that rejects industry scams, preserves our ecosystems, and rapidly phases out fossil fuels.”

Air board staff acknowledged these concerns, but Randolph, the board’s chair, said many of the greenhouse gas targets could not be achieved without them. She said the board has prioritized creating a metric to measure how residents could be affected by these projects and also consider the needs of people who are most affected by air pollution.

Randolph said the plan’s heavy emphasis on cutting emissions from transportation will also significantly improve air quality in vulnerable communities. Cutting vehicle miles traveled and improving access to mass transit, designing more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and increasing access to electric bikes and vehicles all play a role.

The board expects the state’s landmark cap and trade program — which allows big polluters to buy credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions — to play a much smaller role over time.

In the 2017 version of their scoping plan, air board officials estimated about 38% of emissions reductions would come from cap and trade. Instead, it now would help “fill the gap” to meet the accelerated 2030 emissions target.

Cap and trade has been heavily criticized by legislators and experts in recent years. One criticism is that there are at least 310 million unused credits currently in the system, which is a problem because companies hoard credits that allow them to keep polluting past state limits in later years. Air board officials say they hope to reform the program and address the oversupply of credits at the end of next year.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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