How does planting trees in Georgia reduce air pollution in California?
In reality it doesn't but in the political fantasy world advanced by Assembly Bill 32 known as the "Global Warming Act" it does.
The goal of the 2006 measure is to reduce California emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Who could object to that? But as with most legislation passed in Sacramento AB32 was long on generalities and lean on details. This hasn't been a good thing for cities, businesses, and farmers struggling to try to figure out how to implement AB32's mandate to revert to 1990 air quality levels. It is particularly troublesome in the San Joaquin Valley that has seen more than a 50 percent jump in air quality over the past 28 years. AB32 is an overlap on federal air quality requirements that come with their own maddening dictates. The valley is already struggling trying to figure out how to meet one federal pollution benchmark regarding ozone standards that even air quality experts concede can't be met even if all vehicle, construction, farming, and train traffic were to cease tomorrow from Stockton to Bakersfield. But even when the great wizards of Sacramento get more specific the rules they outline often lead to smoke and mirrors with no tangible benefit.
Then there are the grand schemes aimed at providing the key muscle to reach lofty goals that lawmakers promise when cuddling up to special interest groups allegedly in the name of public good.
We saw it happen in 2001 with the electricity crisis. California got cozy with the energy providers as politicians danced with the likes of PG&E, Enron, and Southern California Edison to deregulate the electricity markets in the name of cheaper power for consumers.
We all know how that went.
The Global Warming Act is now starting to show signs that it is a repeat of power deregulation in terms of unintended consequences.
State Senate President Darrell Steinberg last month noted in a Los Angeles Times piece that the cornerstone of AB32's implementation - cap and trade - allows polluters to buy green credits from those that reduce pollution.
That in itself isn't bad but a surprisingly large chunk of those credits are being bought from out-of-state sources. That's right. California businesses that pollute because it is next to impossible to reduce their emissions further are "buying" green credits from sources beyond California's borders such as timber firms re-planting trees and dairies installing methane digesters.
How does this help clean the air in California? It doesn't. What it does is drive up the cost of doing business and living in California with no tangible benefits.
The state's biggest polluters not only aren't investing in green technologies for their California operations but they are adding to the cost of consumer goods such as gasoline by tacking on the cost of buying emissions credits from out-of-state sources.
You could argue trees are fleeting sources of greenhouse gas offsets as they have a tendency to eventually die or be cut down. But if the emissions credits had gone for trees planted in California at least the state would have gotten some measurable benefit from what amounts to a costly air pollution tax ultimately borne by consumers.
It gets worse.
Last month Gov. Jerry Brown started a push to use $250 million of the permit fees paid by polluters who couldn't secure and purchase the cheaper emissions credits to help start the high speed rail track construction in the San Joaquin Valley.
So how is the $250 million investment in the bullet train going to effectively reduce air pollution in the state's most problematic air quality region - the San Joaquin Valley? It might eventually take a chunk out of the air traffic between Los Angeles and San Francisco. That's fine. But those flights tend to go over the ocean and the coast. It's a major construction project with a lot of potential for dust - an air quality pollutant under federal rules. That means it will require lots of water to control the dust. Since a shortage of water is already causing mass unemployment in the valley, how will the bullet train construction mean a net gain in valley jobs if they take water that farming needs an therefore costs jobs? Oops, wrong Sacramento whooper.
Since the trains run on electricity they won't emit greenhouse gases, right? Wrong.
They need electricity to run. Given the fact that nuclear power was generating 14 percent of the state' power mix before San Onofre became history, there is going to have to be some fossil fuel burning somewhere to power the trains.
California could blanket the Coastal Ranges with wind turbines and step up its bird kill. They could cover the Mojave Desert with solar farms to disturb delicate eco systems. New hydroelectric power is a bit problematic given how environmentalists equate building more dams with filling Yosemite Valley with cement.
That means somewhere more greenhouse gas emissions are going to be created to power the governor's high speed legacy.
The world is not perfect. But what California leaders often hype as bold innovations more often than not come back to bite Golden State taxpayers and consumers in the pocketbook with minimal or no benefits.
At least thanks to cap and trade the people of states such as Georgia are breathing cleaner air and are enjoying a more robust economy on our dime.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.