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California Releases Misleading Greenhouse Emissions Report

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DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada.

In the Golden State, all is golden on the issue of climate change, or at least that's what we're being told. In essence, that was the conclusion of California Governor Gavin Newsom in reaction to the state's release of its annual greenhouse gas emissions data on August 12th. On that day, the California Air Resources Board released its 2017 data, showing emissions driving statewide down in the electricity sector and yet emissions up in nearly every other category, including the inventory. Some categories, such as oil imports, are noticeably missing from the analysis. That, despite the fact that the state has 15 refineries in over 100 import terminals. Others such as natural gas consumption, do not include an entire life cycle analysis to account for things such as methane emissions, which happen throughout the supply chain.

Newsom didn't mention any of this in his rosy press release. Instead, he said, "California is proving that smart climate policies are good for our economy and good for the planet. California will continue advancing the cause of American climate leadership." California does often get top billing in the United States as a leader on climate, as eluded to by Governor Newsom. But the state's own data, when interpreted independently of political office holders or state agencies, raises serious questions as to whether California is simply leading a race off the climate cliff.

Joining us to answer some of those questions are two experts with long tenures doing climate advocacy work in the state. One of them is Gary Hughes, the California Policy Monitor for the organization Biofuelwatch and a co-host of the show "Terra Verde" on KPFA-FM. The other is Greg Karras, a Senior Scientist for Communities for a Better Environment. Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us on The Real News today.

GARY HUGHES: Thank you so much for having us. It's really an honor to be here with you.

GREG KARRAS: Yeah, good to be here.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, gentlemen And this question is for both of you. Perhaps Gary can answer first. Is California showing American climate leadership as Governor Newsom said in his official statement? And we'll drill down in the specifics momentarily, but first, what is your high-level view about that claim?

GARY HUGHES: I think it's really worrisome that the governor can make such broad statements about California's ongoing leadership without being more detailed about the threats and risks that we're facing, with the real fact that emissions in many sectors, in many crucial sectors, are not coming down. They're even going upwards, so I think the governor is doing us a disservice by not being more forthcoming with the challenges that the state faces.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And Greg, what's your view about that high-level question?

GREG KARRAS: Yeah. Well, like most of the world, what it's going to take here is decarbonizing electricity and electrifying transportation. On the decarbonizing electricity side, the state has used most all the tools in the toolbox direct control, incentives and so far is making progress. It's early days and the tough stuff's ahead, but it's making progress on the electricity side. On the oil side, which is more than half of the total emissions, the state's doing the exact opposite, taking a sort of cheap pollution trading approach, letting the footprint of the oil industry expand. Around refineries here, that's an environmental injustice. Globally, that's increasing the carbon footprint of oil, the biggest polluter in California.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now, Gary, you've previously spoke with Real News reporter Steve Horn, and talked about the process for which this data is collected and then reported to the state legislature through its joint legislative committee on climate change policies. For that article, you refer to the joint committee as a, "Watch dog with no bite that's willfully blind." Why do you have that view?

GARY HUGHES: The fact that we're discussing the contradiction that there is in the governor's message about California's success in reducing carbon pollution, and then the real world emissions increases that Greg is identifying for monitoring the refinery sector. And unfortunately, this data was released a month later than it has traditionally been released. And this committee that we refer to held its only hearing for the entire year that was supposed to address the emissions inventory, but they looked at the old data from more than a year ago. And so, yes, it's a watch dog without bite because this watch dog isn't even wanting to be forthcoming with the latest emissions data to really have this tough and important discussion that California has to have about how it is that we're actually going to deal with the challenges of reducing emissions in all sectors that present climate threats.

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