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

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Specifically, the global warming law, known as AB 32 (Assembly Bill 32), mandates that California reach 1990 levels of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 – a 25 percent cut from current levels.

To reach that goal, AB 32 essentially provides a stool with four legs: instituting a cap-and-trade program, lowering carbon content in fuel, increasing fuel efficiency in vehicles, and pushing communities to become more energy efficient.

The effort to roll out each of the four main components of AB 32 has met with varying degrees of success and resistance. Texas oil companies even tried to repeal AB 32 in its entirety by funding a ballot initiative, which failed. Taken together, the developments of the past five years show the complexity of attempting such sweeping greenhouse-gas regulations all at once.

1. Cap and trade: still ironing out the kinks

The most controversial element of AB 32 is cap and trade – the mechanism that places an annually declining cap on greenhouse-gas emissions and allows polluters to buy and sell carbon allowances. Figuring out exactly how that will work took three years and was generally seen as a rough ride.

To ease the fears of those who worry that businesses will flee to other states, California is allowing state regulators to give out nearly half their allowances to polluters free of charge. Moreover, those that are sold will cost $10 per one metric ton (2,200 pounds) of emissions. Environmentalists say handing out free allowances undermines cap and trade, and that $10 is far too cheap. The futures market puts the price tag at $20.

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