California’s Attack on Black Carbon

Jerry Brown’s Massive – and Costly – Clean Air Ark

You can’t say California Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t aim high in terms of role models. In signing the most potentially sweeping – and expensive – clean air law in the country this month, Brown likened himself to the Biblical Noah.

“When Noah wanted to build his ark, most of the people laughed at him,” Brown said on Sept. 19, standing in front of a Long Beach playground within sight of an oil refinery. “Why are you building this damn ark? Well, luckily he did. It saved all the species and Noah and his family. We have to build our ark too by stopping climate change, by stopping dangerous pollutants and doing it as soon as possible.”

There are no receipts or ledgers for Noah’s Ark, so we’re somewhat in the dark for what it cost vs. what it saved. Brown’s Ark, though, will have a huge impact on the cost of doing business in California while seeking to reverse climate change by regulating so-called “super pollutants.”

Targeting Power Generators and Long-Haul Truckers

The new law will particularly target the oil refining, power generating, construction and long-haul freight industries. By setting new standards, Brown the law’s backers hope to intensify efforts at developing new fuel savings and clean engine technologies, like fuel catalysts.

“We’re protecting people’s lungs, their health by cutting out the poisonous chemicals that come out of diesel trucks, that come out of many sources — what is known as black carbon,” Brown said. “That’s real stuff, and it goes from some machine into the air and into your lungs.

Pushing Polluters on to Other States

But business leaders say the bill will only further drive industry out of California.

“We are deeply disappointed Governor Brown signed this bill since it will lead to job loss and potentially increased pollution as affected industries are forced to relocate to neighboring states with more relaxed environmental laws,” Shawn Lewis, executive director of the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement released after the Long Beach gathering.

Super pollutants are a category of greenhouse gases that experts say can be up to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. They currently account for about 15 percent of all emissions in the Golden State, according to officials with the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Carbon dioxide makes up more than 84 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions in California. Methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons, though, account for about 44 percent of all the state’s estimated warming effect because they’re much more potent than CO2, according to a CARB report released in April. 

California Lungs

Specifically, the new law sets caps on methane emissions from landfills and dairies, hydrofluorocarbons from refrigerants and black carbon, also called soot, from diesel trucks. By 2030, the law requires that annual methane and hydrofluorocarbon emissions must be slashed by 40 percent and human-caused black carbon by 50 percent below 2013 levels.

How bad is pollution in California? Coroners have typically pegged how long a murder victim has lived in the state by the amount of soot found in their lungs.  Many studies show smog, soot and other air pollutants together cause thousands of premature deaths and exact billions of dollars in lost productivity each year in California. Those who likely will benefit most from Brown’s Ark will be the poor, who often live closest to factories and oil refineries in low-income neighborhoods.