California’s emissions dip—but climate policies get less credit than the weather

According to analyses from the air board and independent experts, last year’s emissions drops came about not because of technological breakthroughs or drastic pollution reductions from oil refineries or other industries, nor did the lauded cap-and-trade program make a signifiant difference.

It was the rain.

Record winter precipitation, especially in the northern part of the state, brought hydroelectric dams back into play and allowed utilities to rely less on gas-fired power. And the air board’s report credits electricity generation for the biggest cuts: Emissions from in-state electricity generation decreased more than 19 percent last year, and emissions from imported electricity dropped nearly 23 percent.

And California’s policy continues to add green power to the grid: Large-scale solar generation increased by 32 percent and wind generation increased by 11 percent.

That trend is in keeping with a report issued last month by the California Public Utilities Commission that found that the state’s major utilities have met or will soon exceed the target of 33 percent clean electric energy by 2020.

On the other hand, emissions from oil refineries, transportation fuels and cement plants increased slightly. In the case of the cement manufacturing, the air board attributed the increase to ramped up production.

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