Jun 1 • 1HR 16M

Volts podcast: Danny Cullenward on California's shaky climate plans

The goals are noble, but the details lack detail.

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Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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California has long been known, nationally and internationally, as a leader on climate policy. The sheer scale of its economy and the stringency of its emissions targets have made it a model for other states with climate ambitions. As a role model, its successes (and failures) reverberate far beyond its borders.

So it matters a great deal whether California has a practical plan to meet its aspirations. This year offers something of an answer, and … it’s not great.

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Every five years, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issues a “scoping plan,” laying out how it intends to meet the state’s targets.

The last one, in 2017, raised serious questions about whether the state’s cap-and-trade system could do the emission-reduction work that the state planned to require of it through 2030. This year’s draft scoping plan (there’s still time for public comment) answers none of those questions, and instead, looking out to 2045, raises new questions about whether carbon-dioxide removal (CDR) can do the work the state plans to require of it.

Danny Cullenward
Danny Cullenward

That’s a lot of questions. To hash through them, and get a sense of just how prepared California is to meet its climate targets, I called up Danny Cullenward, a long-time policy analyst in the state. (Volts fans will remember him from one of the very first Volts posts.) He is currently policy director at the nonprofit CarbonPlan and a research fellow at American University’s Institute for Carbon Removal Law & Policy.

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Cullenward and I discussed what policies have worked to reduce emissions in California, whether the cap-and-trade program can do what’s asked of it, why the current scoping plan leans so heavily on CDR, and whether there’s still time to improve the plan before it’s locked in for five years.