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California ready to cut greenhouse gases. Next, doing it.

After five years, California has put in place rules to cut greenhouse-gas emissions statewide back to 1990 levels. But lingering effects of the recession have pushed implementation back a year to 2013.

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In addition, CARB mandated a 50 percent reduction from today's levels of overall auto-emitted greenhouse gases. Domestic car-makers, who are already moving in both of these directions on their own, have been largely supportive of CARB's efforts.

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4. Urging more sustainable communities

The fourth major element of AB 32, the demand for more sustainable communities, has also begun to spread through the state. A law passed in 2008 to meet that goal, Senate Bill 375, calls for California communities to reduce transportation-related greenhouse-gas emissions by better use of roads, more open spaces, and better residential planning. Hundreds of cities and towns are participating, with an emphasis on regional cooperation.

"When the state came together to figure out how to meet the goals of AB 32 ... one thing that wasn't talked about enough was … how we conceive and build communities in the first place, to minimize the use of driving to work, shopping, and home again," says state Senate majority leader Darrell Steinberg in an online video. "This legislation is being touted in many states and in D.C. as the most significant law to change the direction of urban planning."

SB 375 authorized CARB to set greenhouse-gas reduction targets for cars and light trucks by region and allows each region the flexibility to develop its own plan. It also synced the federally required transportation-planning process with the state-mandated housing allo­cation process.

"Linking these two processes leads to more holistic planning," says Bill Higgins, executive director of the California Association of Councils of Governments.

But the first region out of the gate, San Diego, is facing a lawsuit as a result. Though CARB says the San Diego plan would achieve its greenhouse-gas reduction targets, opponents – this time, environmentalists – claim it would increase sprawl and pollution while not investing enough in public transit.

Some cities and businesses, however, are moving ahead on their own, suggesting that AB 32 is having indirect effects.

Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, is redesigning its downtown around rail. The intent is to minimize car travel by keeping workers closer to their jobs and retail. Meanwhile, Bowman Design Group in Signal Hill reduced greenhouse emissions by 65 percent in 2009, replacing company cars with hybrids, improving natural light and ventilation, and consolidating office equipment, among other things. The annual savings is $9,000, and the company – which creates exhibitions for museums and firms – has become a leader in helping the exhibit industry go green.

Says chairman Tom Bowman: "AB 32 is an impressive effort, and even though it is being implemented gradually over time it is already delivering benefits to California."

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