California Senate Doubles Down on Speculative Climate Technologies and Advances CDR Markets Bill

The California State Senate has advanced a bill, SB 308 – The Carbon Dioxide Removal Market Development Act – that would require large stationary polluters like refineries to purchase ‘negative emissions credits’ from California Air Resources Board certified ‘carbon dioxide removal’ (CDR) projects. The bill implies that only a portion of certified CDR projects would actually have to be located in the state of California, opening the door to market participation for CDR project developers from outside of the state. The bill passed on the Senate floor by a vote of 23-9, with strong support from Senate Democrats who voted for the bill despite clear opposition from environmental justice organizations from across the state. SB 308 will now go onto the state Assembly for further consideration.

The last amendments to the bill were made in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where the bill was held on suspense because of the anticipated multi-million dollar annual cost to state authorities to establish and implement the new market described in the bill. The amendments taken up in Senate Appropriations are meant to better align the CDR market development bill with cap-and-trade criteria stating that emitting entities who report 25,000 tons or more of greenhouse gas emissions per year (CO2e) are subject to the requirements in the bill. This threshold would thus include all the facilities that are already covered by the ‘mandatory reporting requirement’ (MRR) for reporting greenhouse gas emissions and that are considered ‘covered entities’ under the California cap-and-trade program, which in linkage with the Quebec carbon market forms the Western Climate Initiative, Inc.

Incidentally, the California Air Resources Board just announced a joint California-Québec Public Workshop on Potential Amendments to the Cap-and-Trade Regulation. That meeting will be held on June 14, 2023 in a virtual format.

The California cap-and-trade program, while still bringing in significant revenue to the state for spending on projects like the still unfinished High Speed Rail, is under increasing scrutiny for the failure to actually bring down the real world emissions of the refineries that are ‘regulated’ by the market mechanism.

The bizarre and surreal politics of SB 308 are typical of Sacramento, with formal opposition to the bill being filed by a number of environmental and environmental justice organizations, Biofuelwatch among them. Yet the oil and timber industries have also opposed the bill, with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the California Farm Bureau, American Forest & Paper Association, and the California Chamber of Commerce (see the bill analysis: 202320240SB308_Senate Floor Analyses) all expressing opposition. The industry reasons for opposition are not based on the same climate justice and scientific principles as the civil society organizations registering opposition.

To the contrary. In the Senate Environmental Quality Committee hearing on the bill in April, industry voices like the California Carbon Solutions Coalition and WSPA made it clear that they are in strong support of ‘carbon dioxide removal’ as a technological means to respond to climate pollution, and are investing significant resources in these technologies. But extractive industry stakeholders are offended at being compelled to participate in another compliance market mechanism. To some degree, the industry players are correct: the last thing California needs is another byzantine emissions trading mechanism built on the philosophy that the free hand of the market is going to lead the state to emissions reductions. Especially when the mechanism at hand has no direct emissions reductions requirements, and is entirely built around the dubious science that claims it is possible to ‘undo’ climate pollution after it occurs.

To be clear, this bill is in essence a stand alone CDR offset market, predicated upon an obfuscation of the best contemporary science and analysis addressing these speculative technologies. There is evidence that raises serious doubts about whether or not CDR technologies would work, and if they actually work there are doubts that they would have any significant impact on reducing the threat of climate change.

The bill includes unspoken but strong support for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), and tries to make a gesture to providing environmental guard rails with an obtuse reference to concern about ‘deforestation’ remaining in the bill, but the absence of any real protections for forests or the climate make these aspects of the bill more cosmetic than anything. The bill does nothing to address the existing crisis of governance in forests in California and globally.

Biofuelwatch offered comments on the bill to the Senate at the committee and the floor level, raising concerns about the bill author and bill proponents failing to transparently address the geoengineering nature of the technologies that would ostensibly be scaled up under the new market mechanism. We also communicated in our letter the growing understanding of the ‘asymmetries’ in the climate system, and how for the climate system of the planet we live on there is no actual equivalency between an ‘emission’ and a ‘removal’ as the bill implies. Ton for ton a carbon removal will never be equal to the ton that was emitted, it will always be less. In this sense, from the very beginning this bill is a total loser for the climate because of the ‘one to one’ false equivalency enshrined in the proposed market mechanism.

Contextually this bill is moving as controversy erupts around deliberations for including ‘carbon removals’ in the Article 6 carbon trading mechanism under the auspices of the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, en route to what will be a truly oil and gas soaked Conference of Parties later this year in the United Arab Emirates.

Read the Biofuelwatch comment letter on SB 308: Biofuelwatch_SenFloor_SB308OPPOSE

For background on these politics in Sacramento see the November 2022 report from Biofuelwatch: Carbon Capture? Or Captured Futures? Fossil Fuel and Bioenergy Controls California “Getting to Neutral” Climate Policy

Biofuelwatch will continue to monitor and report on these developments in the state capitol of Sacramento. Stay tuned for updates about the strong pivot in California to geoengineering as a supposed response to climate change.