CARB Chair Liane Randolph on Tackling Climate Change By Increasing Our ‘Ambition’


With California's authority to regulate tail-pipe emission restored by the Biden administration,  the California State Air Resources Board (CARB) laid out a new plan to increase EV sales to 35 percent in the state by 2026, joining an already impressive collection of regulations and incentives to help solve the Climate Crisis. VX News had the opportunity to sit down with CARB Chair, Liane Randolph, to elaborate on CARB's work under her leadership  and highlights the new ways the state is looking at reducing emissions across sectors and accelerating the clean energy transition.   

Chair Randolph, we speak with you for the first time since your appointment as chair of the California Air Resources Board. Please share what enticed you to accept this role following six years on the PUC?

A couple of things. Having a direct impact on public health and trying to address the day-to-day air quality issues that our communities are facing was a really exciting opportunity. Of course, our role in planning for how the state will address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions was another area that I couldn't resist being more involved in. It was a key part of the work I did at the PUC. Now I have the opportunity to do it on a broader, economy-wide scale, looking at  all of the sectors, not just electricity and gas. I am really enjoying the opportunity to have that bigger role in policy implementation.

With all the new faces on the state's regulatory boards - CARB, Cal ISO, and CPUC, address the challenges of true collaboration among the aforementioned.

That collaborative effort is probably the most important part of our job right now because so many of the issues that we deal with are incredibly cross-cutting. I experienced that at the PUC in working closely with the Energy Commission and Cal ISO, and I continue that in my new role. We meet regularly with the CEO of the ISO, Chair Hochschild, and President Reynolds.

There's been a lot of continuity. President Reynolds was there in the Governor's Office during my time at the CPUC. I got to know Chair Hochschild when he was a regular commissioner at the CEC. I've been really enjoying the opportunity to work with Patty Monahan, the Commissioner who is the lead on zero-emission vehicles at the Energy Commission, and have been working closely with her as we are mapping out our strategy to ensure that, in addition to vehicle availability, we also have the right infrastructure for all classes of vehicles. Also, I’m continuing to work with Commissioner Rechtschaffen, who is the zero-emission vehicle lead at the PUC.

We all are in constant communication, particularly with the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development, with Dee Dee Myers and her team, as they are looking at opportunities to get the infrastructure deployed, taking advantage of the federal funding, leveraging activity in the private sector, and trying to keep us all coordinated and working together.

Pivoting, speak to the significance of EPA’s reinstatement of California's decades old authority to regulate tailpipe emissions; and, to how aligned US EPA’s  proposed heavy duty NOx rules, are with CARB regulation of sources?

Reinstating the waiver is a critical piece of California’s strategy. The way I think about the reinstatement is that it sort of rebalances the universe. We adopted our advanced clean cars rule and got the waiver that we typically get whenever we adopt a regulation that is trying to bring California in compliance with the Clean Air Act, given our difficult air quality challenges. The idea that that waiver would be taken away was just so beyond the pale that it feels like of course, the Biden administration would return it. It's an important piece of our regulatory authority.

Our first opportunity to take the next step is in our Advanced Clean Cars II regulation, which is our light duty regulation. That will be our next tranche of vehicle regulations that will carry us all the way to the 2035 goal of 100 percent new car sales that Governor Newsom laid out in his executive order.

In addition to that, we will continue with regulation in the medium- and heavy-duty space with the Advanced Clean Fleets regulation that will come to the board in the fall. Currently, it proposes that fleets with more than  50 vehicles will need to transition over time to zero emission. It's an important complement to the manufacturing requirement in our Advanced Clean Trucks rule that was adopted immediately prior to my time on the board. You have the manufacturing requirement in the Advanced Clean Truck regulation and then the Advanced Clean Fleet regulation will have a purchaser requirement, so you can create the market and have that synergy with the manufacturers producing the vehicles and the larger fleets purchasing the vehicles. I will note that we are proposing that the Postal Service fleet would need to come under the Advanced Clean Fleet regulations in California to have zero emission vehicles.

Moving on to US EPA and their proposed rule. I was just testifying about this. They have proposed a new rule to regulate NOx and other tailpipe emissions. We are happy that they are moving forward with a rule. There are definitely ways we want to see the rules strengthened. They proposed Option One, which more closely aligns with California's rules, and Option Two, which I think goes in the wrong direction.

We are advocating that at a minimum, EPA adopts Option One. At the same time, we would like to see Option One get even stronger. We think they've included more flexibility than is really necessary. I think that will hinder some of the benefits of the rule. We are planning on commenting officially on some tweaks we'd like to see, but in general we are supportive of Option One.

The other thing I would add is, the regulation of federal sources is critically important. As we are having success with our strategies for our state sources, we are seeing a declining impact of state-regulated sources and an increasing impact of federally-regulated sources. If we are going to meet attainment, particularly in the South Coast air basin, those federal sources need to be addressed.

We are also proposing a locomotive rule within California for switcher engines, transit locomotives, and other locomotives that we can regulate within the state of California. As I just noted, the vast majority of the pollution from those sources is federally regulated. We would like to see some movement on the part of the US EPA and the federal government at large to address those federal sources.

CARB is about to require a percentage purchase of zero emission vehicles, which surely will require greater collaboration, partnership, and infrastructure build up. How is CARB working with partners like the state’s ports and the logistics industry to enable this transition to be smooth, efficient, and effective?

As I mentioned earlier, we're doing a lot of coordination within the administration, but the administration can't do it alone. Working with local governments, ports, and utilities is a key part of our overall state strategy.

We have a staff person at CARB whose sole responsibility it is to work with our mobile sources team generally, but her whole job is coordinating with other people on infrastructure. She works directly with local governments to provide information, problem solve, make sure everyone is aware of the various programs there are with the CEC, administer hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure investments that the governor approved in last year's budget and then proposed this year, and ensure  that everyone is aware of the different opportunities out there so that they can work with manufacturers to build a solution that works for them.

I'll give you a couple of examples. CARB is still very active in the transportation electrification partnership in Los Angeles by coordinating some of those public-private solutions and keeping those levels of communication open. We also have numerous pilot projects and incentive programs that we've approved. Last year's budget provided more funding for a coordinated infrastructure and vehicle application process. That is a joint application process before both the CEC and CARB so that you can apply for a package that gives you the vehicle incentives and the infrastructure incentives as part of the same application, which has been an important opportunity to make sure that those streams of funding are working together.

We've had some really successful pilots with the Volvo LIGHTS project in the Los Angeles area. A new project is getting underway in West Oakland that is a heavy duty program for hydrogen fuel cell trucks that are going to the Central Valley from the Port of Oakland. Those programs are opportunities to test out what works well and what doesn't. Hopefully they can be scaled up as Advanced Clean Trucks and Advanced Clean Fleets get implemented in the coming years.

Some national electeds have claimed that current California policies are making political consensus hard in Washington because those in less progressive states  believe California’s aggressive environmental “soundbite targets” don't tell the world how the State is going to get to “goal” without economic hardship and labor dislocation.  Your response?

It's an interesting question, because I think that California's success has been that we set goals and we actually achieve the goals. I'll just give you a couple of examples.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard is probably the easiest one. We set this target and achieved the greenhouse gas reductions we needed. Admittedly, we've had some bumps along the way. We are now dealing with extreme weather, which presents some reliability challenges, but at the end of the day, we have addressed those, kept the lights on, and we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector.

Vehicles are another good example. Light duty vehicles have taken off. The signal that California has set in terms of regulatory requirements has been phenomenally successful and has caught the imagination of the country. Companies like Ford are pushing the envelope with their F150 Lightning and thinking about ways to make zero emission vehicles attractive and exciting. We are now at a point where 16 percent of new car sales in first quarter of 2022 were plug-in electric vehicles. That's massive progress.

CARB is now in the midst of its 2022 Scoping Plan, Share, if you can, what board members are learning from this planning engagement process.

Here are my key takeaways so far from the scoping planning process. First of all, the high level message is we need to increase our ambition and we need to move harder, faster. The impacts of climate change are very clear and accelerating. As I was referring to earlier, we are seeing more extreme weather here in California that makes it more challenging for us to both adapt to climate change and mitigate climate change at the same time.

The other key topic is equity. We need to make sure we are doing this in a way that protects the most vulnerable communities here in California. That's one reason why our vehicle strategy is so important in the heavy duty space, because those heavy duty vehicles have the greatest climate impacts and air pollution impacts. Making that transition a key part of the Scoping Plan meets both of those goals.

The last thing I would say is that we need to keep all strategies on the table. We cannot get where we're going without being willing to push groundbreaking strategies that will spur innovation and job creation.

In looking at the draft that we expect to release in May --  and conversations with the board and the public that are going to happen over the summer --  those are going to be the key issues that I'm going to be thinking about. How can we make sure that we keep as many strategies available and make progress in all of those strategies as much as possible to get to both our 2030 goal and our goal for carbon neutrality by 2045 or sooner?

Will hydrogen or green hydrogen likely play a significant role in CARB’s future strategies?

Yes, we need to be open to ways to power our energy system, our industrial processes, and transportation in ways that will reduce GHGs and air pollutants. Green hydrogen – for instance, from electrolysis using renewable electricity – is an example of an important strategy that can be a part of that mix. We're going to need to transition hundreds of megawatts of gas-fired generation, and we're going to need to be figuring out how we can do that. Hydrogen is going to need to play a part in that conversation.

Lastly, with federal infrastructure funding  becoming available for greener infrastructure along with California's budget surplus, does the state (and localities) have the managerial capacity to wisely handle the implementation challenges of building back better?

I think we are well-positioned to use those funds wisely because we have experience in having the right regulatory environment, but also managing incentives on both the vehicle side and the infrastructure side. We also have experience ensuring that we are working closely with our sister agencies to build the right application processes to get the money out the door and make sure that the infrastructure gets built.

We do have challenges. I don't want to minimize that. One of the interesting things that we've run into is we're having to adapt to climate change at the same time as we’re mitigating it. An example of that is that utilities have folks hardening their infrastructure against wildfires, but those are often the same folks that need to do the interconnections for vehicle charging and renewables.

I'm not saying it's going to be work without challenge, but I think we can rise to the occasion. We can “meet the moment”, as the Governor says, to get this infrastructure and the vehicles out and to meet the customer's needs.

When I talk to some of these fleet owners, their clients are clamoring to meet their sustainability goals. They want the zero emission trucks, and they want to be able to charge or have hydrogen available. They're eager, and we are all working really hard to bring that vision to life.

“We cannot get where we're going without being willing to push groundbreaking strategies that will spur innovation and job creation.” -Liane Randolph, CARB Chair