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The next big step for California on climate change

Daryl Maas, owner of Maas Energy Works in Redding, checks the generator on its methane digesting operation at a dairy farm in Galt in August. Many more digesters would be needed to meet California’s climate change goals.
Daryl Maas, owner of Maas Energy Works in Redding, checks the generator on its methane digesting operation at a dairy farm in Galt in August. Many more digesters would be needed to meet California’s climate change goals. Sacramento Bee file

The California Air Resources Board is proposing an important climate change reduction plan that will help residents breathe easier, eat healthier and reduce food waste.

The Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy aims to cut so-called super pollutants that remain in the atmosphere for less time than carbon dioxide but inflict much greater harm on people and the environment. It includes 2030 targets established in legislation approved this year to significantly cut methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons emitted by landfills, oil and gas production, agriculture operations, diesel engine exhaust, wood smoke, refrigerants and more.

Climate change is worsening our pollution problems. And despite decades of progress, more than 80 percent of Californians still live in areas with unhealthy air. Millions suffer from asthma attacks and symptoms, lung and heart diseases and cancers, and thousands die early every year because of air pollution.

Much of California’s short-lived pollution comes from methane, the principal component of natural gas, which is produced by dairy and livestock operations as well as food scraps and other materials that rot in landfills. While organic matter makes up nearly half of the material we send to our landfills, most of it could be readily recovered to feed people or recycled to feed our soils. A pair of recent studies found that a shocking 40 percent of the food grown in this country is never eaten, costing consumers and industry $218 billion each year, all while millions go hungry.

The super pollutant strategy would tackle the organic waste problem head-on by laying out a clear framework to eliminate three-quarters of organic waste in landfills by 2025. The plan calls for recovering edible food and for composting other food scraps and yard trimmings. This will eliminate millions of tons of methane pollution, while creating an estimated 14,000 new jobs. The strategy also lays out the need to reduce methane pipeline leaks and transition to sustainable dairy and livestock operations.

The proposed strategy also aims to cut black carbon emissions in half by 2030, a goal that will depend on a massive cleanup of polluting sources that include freight vehicles and equipment and residential wood-burning devices.

The air resources board’s plan is backed by recent state approval of more than $100 million in cap-and-trade funding, but expanded investments will be needed to keep on track.

This strategy builds on California’s ongoing leadership to address climate change and improve air quality. Removing these super pollutants from our atmosphere will reduce health risks from air pollution, extreme heat, drought, wildfires, flooding and food insecurity linked to climate change. Moving it forward quickly will not only save lives today, it will ensure a cleaner, healthier future for all Californians.

Bonnie Holmes-Gen is senior policy director for the American Lung Association of California and can be contacted at bonnie.holmes-gen@lung.org. Nick Lapis is director of advocacy for Californians Against Waste and can be contacted at nicklapis@cawrecycles.org.

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