Advancing sustainable growth in the United States and China

Ryan McCarthy

Ryan McCarthy is the Science and Technology Policy Advisor to the Chair at the California Air Resources Board, where he focuses on transportation, energy and climate policy issues. He is heavily involved in climate policy discussions related to 2030 targets and planning, including the development of a plan to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants in California, as required by Senate Bill 605 (Lara).

California has been a leader in state level support for clean energy. What factors led California to play this role?

It stems from our history as a leader on regulating air pollution. We have always had some of the worst air pollution in the country, and were the first state to start regulating sources of air pollution. When the federal clean air act was signed in 1970, it gave us a unique authority to set our own standards and work to make sure our air was clean. We still have some of the worst air quality in the country and we still need to take leading steps to promote clean technologies to comply with federal requirements. This history with air pollution and the natural beauty throughout our state that drives much of our lifestyle has led to diverse support across political and demographic lines for action on clean energy, as well.

What state policy mechanisms have worked best in terms of emissions reductions and technology adoption? What lessons from California state policy on energy and emissions do California hope regulators elsewhere study and adapt?

We have a broad array of programs and policies of different types that are helping us reduce emissions. Historically, we focused on clean vehicle and fuel regulations. Now we also have market-based mechanisms like cap and trade, which encourages carbon reduction through flexible means. Increasingly, we are mixing regulations and market mechanisms with incentives and direct investments, as well. We have a low-carbon fuel standard that is market-based but focused on promoting clean transportation fuels. Our goal is to provide broad flexibility but also have strict and targeted regulations that allow change to happen, where it needs to happen. In general, we are trying to ensure each sector reduces emissions, but also allow some flexibility on how industry can go about achieving those goals. Other regulators can look to what we have done in several areas to inform their approach to low-carbon development, including in building efficiency, cap and trade and make the necessary tweaks to fit their unique situation.

To what extent do California’s policies reinforce one another and lead to continuing innovation?

Our regulatory policies work together to reinforce one another. While you can imagine addressing the two tasks of cleaning the air and addressing climate change separately, it makes sense to tackle them together. So we are aligning transportation, air quality and climate change policy to make sure each addresses the other. We just released a draft 2016 Mobile Sources Strategy that does this. This strategy was informed by a detailed model that takes into account the air quality and climate change implications of California’s vehicle fleet. It helps us understand the best types of technologies that should be adopted to meet both air quality standards and our climate goals.

Second, we have a range of targeted climate policies (such as a renewable portfolio standard, and vehicle greenhouse emission standards) that are reducing emissions in certain sectors where we know we need to push efficiency and clean energy. These standards work along with our cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions.

Third is investments. There is a tremendous opportunity to stimulate investment in sectors where emissions reductions are needed: transit oriented development, low-carbon transportation, high-speed rail, and natural resources. Targeted policies in this area ensure that investments are working towards the progress we need.

In many regions, industry complains about the high cost of regulations to the economy. How do leaders approach this issue with respect to energy and environmental targets and policies?

It’s a constant fight. I think we have been largely successful because we have an open and transparent process that is firmly grounded in science. No sector likes to be regulated. But if you have the weight of evidence and a thorough process on your side, you can move forward effectively. Automakers and electricity utilities, in particular, have come a long way – and it’s because the rules we set are guiding their investments and innovation is bringing down costs of clean technologies. We’re going to have 50 percent renewable electricity in California by 2030, and the conversations with the industry have moved from “if” we can get there, to how we best get there.