How do you know when a regulatory program has matured? Though it sounds like the front half of a bad regulatory joke, it is actually a question with a serious and far-reaching answer. The program in question here is the implementation of AB 32, California’s well-known greenhouse gas reduction statute. And the answer is, “When the California Air Resources Board releases an update to the Original Scoping Plan.” CARB released such an update this week, as it has been just over five years since the Original Scoping Plan was released with much bigger fanfare in June 2008.

The document, referred to officially as the First Update, was released on October 1 and contains some important policy discussions, including the call for a 2030 midterm target for statewide emissions. With a continued focus on energy, transportation, water, waste, natural and working lands, the Update retains the mix of strategies that make up the reduction policy. The Plan also notes that CARB will develop post-2020 caps to reflect the yet-to-be-determined 2030 midterm target. It is implied, but not stated outright, that the Legislature would need to establish that next emission reduction target. In fact, the only discussion about continuing authority in the Update is the following sentence: “Achieving efficient and aligned policies across agencies may require alterations to agency authorities and decision-making procedures.” Comment letters were received during the Update’s workshop process that highlighted the post-2020 authority question, so this surely will be an issue at both the upcoming October 15 public workshop and October 24 presentation of the Plan to the ARB Board.

Even though it is an update, there are some new pieces added to the policy puzzle. The biggest is highlighting the importance of controlling Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCP)—black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons. ARB committed to develop and adopt an SLCP strategy by 2016 that includes “a full inventory of sources and emissions, the identification of research gaps, and a plan for necessary control measures.” Another area of the California economy that has a higher profile in the Update is the agriculture sector, where GHG reduction efforts are focused on research and incentives.

The Update also has more discussion about international efforts and California’s role in leading the way. It highlights the upcoming linkage with Quebec and encourages more jurisdictions to follow California’s lead.

At 123 pages in length, the Update is similar in size and tone to the Original Scoping Plan, which weighed in at 153 pages. But it has a much more routine government document feel to it than the Original, which had more graphs, charts and looked glitzier. This may be a reflection of the difference between the Brown Administration and the Schwarzenegger Administration, which signed off back in 2008. Or it may reflect the maturation of the program. No longer is AB 32 a radical new law, but rather it is a foundational policy of the state. Maybe that is the real answer to the maturity question.