Could AB 32 Help Save The Bay?

This week, California’s landmark climate law, over a decade in the making, goes in to effect.

Back in 2006, then-Governing Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 32, the state’s now landmark Green House Gas (GHG) reduction law.  Central to that new law is establishment of a cap and trade system, which sets a limit on air pollution across the board.  Over time, that cap is lowered, and polluters must take one of three actions.  They can reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses, purchase carbon “credits” from other polluters, or they can purchase offsets from a set of qualified projects aimed at reducing atmospheric CO2 and other GHG’s.

While wetland restoration projects like those in San Francisco Bay aren’t currently included in the profile of eligible projects, we’re curious what would happen if they were.  One of if not the greatest challenge currently facing Bay restoration is funding.  Over 32,000 acres of restorable habitat – roughly equivalent to the entire city of Richmond – are currently in public ownership just waiting for restoration, yet is precious little funding at the state and federal level to restore this land to healthy Bay habitat.

For the past 40 years, another landmark environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act (or CEQA) has required new construction and development to offset environmental impacts with what’s called compensatory mitigation, effectively creating environmental benefits to offset impacts somewhere else.  This practice has created a very profitable industry of mitigation banks – often large tracts of land that are sold piecemeal as industry needs to compensate for the building of a new housing development, a highway, or sports stadium.

Currently AB 32 provides carbon offsets though tree planting and forest restoration from Maine to the San Diego.  But with so many important restoration projects right here at home, and projects that will sequester carbon at a much higher rate than forests of pines or box elders, the California Air Resources Board should open the discussion for a variety of new restoration opportunities on the horizon.