Agriculture Added to Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has released a new draft of a scoping plan that lays out how California is meeting and is expected to meet the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions required by Assembly Bill 32. The 2006 law requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, back to 1990 levels, by 2020, and even further, to 20% of 1990 levels, by the year 2050.

The scoping plan provides a roadmap for meeting required greenhouse gas reductions for eight key economic areas including energy, transportation, water and agriculture. For the 2020 goal, agriculture was not expected to directly contribute to GHG reductions, but to reach the 2050 goal, the plan proposes that GHG targets be set specifically for agriculture.

ARB expects GHG reductions can be achieved in agriculture through reductions in N2O emissions from fertilizers, water-pumping efficiencies, methane capture from dairies and other sources. It has not been clarified if these reductions will be mandated through the use of particular practices, encouraged through incentives to integrate certain practices, or simply taxed to incentivize the desired GHG reductions. Over the next two years, a panel will determine both the goals and how those goals for agriculture should be met.

At the same time, ARB still wants to see agriculture provide offset credits to economic sectors that are regulated under the current cap-and-trade system. The offset credit system allows an individual who voluntarily reduces their greenhouse gas emissions in some way to then sell those credits to businesses that are required to reduce their greenhouse gases.

Initially, the ag sector had explored whether it could earn money for offset credits under AB32. However, the system has since become extremely complicated both in terms of the criteria that need to be met to be considered an offset credit and the verification procedures. The California rice industry has stepped up to be the first to try to navigate this maze. A “rice protocol” with a focus on methane emissions reductions has been drafted and was opened for public comment in mid-March. ARB hopes to complete the process of accepting the protocol by this fall to allow rice growers to sign up in early 2015.

However, with the recent scoping plan announcement that agriculture is now expected to contribute specific GHG reductions, ABC’s Gabriele Ludwig said it is unclear whether such voluntary protocols will ultimately become mandatory in the future.

The Handle