PEI-STEP Graduate David Edwards: Cleaning California’s Air

Carol Peters ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

California’s Legislature established the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 1967 to attain and maintain healthy air quality, conduct research into the causes of and solutions to air pollution, and systematically attack the serious problems caused by motor vehicles, which are a major cause of air pollution in the State. Since its formation, CARB has worked with the public, the business sector, and local governments to protect the public’s health, the economy, and the state’s ecological resources through the most cost-effective reduction of air pollution. On October 20, 2011, California became the first state in the nation to adopt state-administered greenhouse gas cap-and-trade regulations when CARB voted unanimously to approve the program. Part of AB 32 (mentioned above), the cap and trade program will help California reduce its carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The program will be launched in 2013 and will require California’s largest emitters to meet the caps or buy credits.

Princeton University’s Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) is based in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs with strong ties to the Princeton Environmental Institute. The program offers a certificate for students enrolled in the Woodrow Wilson School’s M.P.A. or M.P.P programs and studies leading to a Ph.D. Many aspects of science and technology policy debates have been tackled with the tools of political and economic analysis that are the traditional strong suits of the Woodrow Wilson School. In addition to providing a systematic introduction to the field of policy analysis, the goal of the STEP program is to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of scientific, technological, and environmental problems and opportunities; the specialized methods used for analyzing scientific, technological, and environmental issues; and the dynamics of science and technology in relation to national and international institutions and organizations.

California’s air pollution problems are well-known to many Americans. Photos and stories about smog in Los Angeles, for example, have been in the news for years. Over the last few decades California has implemented plans that have successfully reduced emissions, but air pollution continues to be an important public health concern. How can the state’s air monitoring strategies and regulations be expanded and refined to continue improving air quality? At the same time, how can the innovative and successful methods for reducing air pollution that that have been implemented in California serve as a model for other states and the EPA? These are some of the questions Dr. David Edwards *05 addresses daily.

David Edwards
Dr. David Edwards

Edwards is Manager of the Climate Change Verification Section for the California Air Resources Board (CARB). He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and a Graduate Certificate in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (PEI-STEP) from the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. As head of the verification section of CARB, Edwards and his team focus on air quality regulations and evaluate both the causes of the state’s air quality problems and solutions to those problems. Through his knowledge of and expertise in both policy and science, Edwards interacts regularly with other scientists, state government officials, businesses, and the public. Edwards and his staff are dedicated both to protecting the public’s health and California’s abundant resources.

PEI spoke with Dr. Edwards to discover more about his career and how his participation in the STEP program as a doctoral student contributes to his success today.

PEI: As Manager of the Climate Change Verification Section for CARB, what are your responsibilities?

Edwards: I supervise five staff members who are in charge of verification for the Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Regulation (MRR). The MRR was designed to support the Cap and Trade Program in California. As it is currently written, the MRR requires facilities that emit over 25,000 MTCO2E per year to report their emissions and get them verified by third party verifiers. (To explain further, MTCO2E = metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents. This unit was designed to create a common unit to report greenhouse gases. For example, the overall emissions from a fuel are usually a sum of CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane), and N2O (nitrous oxide). In order to get a common unit to add together, the emissions of each gas type are multiplied by their global warming potential (e.g., CO2 =1, CH4 =21, and N2O =310) and then summed to units of MTCO2E).

My section ensures the third-party verifiers are trained, accredited, audited, and following the requirements of the regulation. Most of the verifiers work either for environmental consulting firms or are local air district staff. The training program teaches the methods and general verification tenets that are needed for our regulation. Because we are currently updating our regulation, the new training will reflect the changes in the regulation that will impact the process. Specifically, California verifiers will verify production data in addition to emissions data starting in 2012.

PEI: What is the difference between verifying production data and emissions data and how will this further support California’s Cap and Trade Program?

Above: ARB verification staff discussing a cement facility’s emissions with the plant operator and third party verifier. Cement plants are one of the industrial sectors covered under ARB’s Mandatory Reporting Regulation. (Photos: Dr. David Edwards)

Feature: Top : Dr. Edwards visiting a recycling separation facility where workers separate plastic and paper recyclables from a garbage stream. David also works on developing greenhouse gas emission reduction factors for various recyclable materials.

Edwards: Verification of emissions data involves looking at the fuel use and processes of a facility and evaluating the carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions. The verified emissions data will be used to track the progress of achieving California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Product data verification involves looking at the number of items a facility makes, (e.g., barrels of oil, tons of cement, etc.), to determine allowance allocations for the regulated industrial sectors. (Early in the Cap and Trade Program, each industrial sector will be given free allocations, or carbon credits, to use based on their verified product data.) Verification for emissions data and product data are different because of the various types of calculation methodologies we use.

The verification of both emissions and product data supports the Cap and Trade Program by ensuring the data used meet the accuracy requirements in our regulation. Without these accuracy requirements, the validity of the data used in the carbon trading scheme that will be formed by the Cap and Trade Program may be questionable.

PEI: What are some of the most challenging and exciting projects your section is working on, and how did your PEI-STEP degree prepare you?

Edwards: One particularly exciting project we’re working on is making changes to the Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Regulation (MRR) and the verification process. The modifications are needed so MRR can sync better with the Cap and Trade Regulation. One of the changes to MMR was the addition of product data verification. Some of the other syncing issues included the addition of biomass-derived fuels verification, missing data requirements, and timeline modifications. Biomass-derived fuel verification is designed to ensure that facilities using biomass fuels (e.g., wood waste, biomethane, etc.) obtain it from a reputable source. The missing data provisions are used to allow facilities to replace missing data in an accurate manner, while the timeline modifications were created to make sure the emissions and product data verification are completed in time for the carbon market release dates. The syncing of MRR with Cap and Trade will ensure the Cap and Trade Program uses accurate data in their market system.

The MRR and Cap and Trade regulations are part of a bigger greenhouse gas reduction initiative in California, AB 32 (Assembly Bill 32, Through AB 32, California has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to its 1990 levels by 2020. In addition to reduction measures, (of which the Cap and Trade Program is one), part of AB 32 requires monitoring and tracking of statewide greenhouse gas emissions. As mentioned in AB 32, public health benefits include the protection of California residents’ from an increase in infectious diseases, asthma, and other diseases that may be linked to climate change.

Outside of verification, I am working on another novel project: developing emission reduction factors for recycling and composting. We are using a life-cycle approach that looks at the benefits of using a recycled material for remanufacturing compared to virgin material inputs. We developed emission reduction factors for aluminum, glass, steel, plastics, office paper, newspaper, cardboard, and compost. To explain, the factor indicates the greenhouse gas emission reductions that occur when a product is recycled. The reductions are due to the reduced energy demands for processing recycled material compared to virgin raw materials (e.g., aluminum) or decreasing the demand on forests (e.g., office paper or newspaper).

PEI: Does this work relate to your PEI-STEP Project?

Edwards: I did not do much life-cycle work for my PEI-STEP project, but while I was developing the emission reduction factors, particularly the compost method, I remembered my STEP project and was careful to make sure the sampling size was representative. Through my STEP project, I learned that many of the policies I was evaluating were based on minimal sample sizes (e.g., an n= 2) from a specific area. The small sample size was then applied to the whole nation or policy. From the evaluation perspective, this made it difficult to assess the effectiveness of the policy because the numerical criteria were based on a non-representative sample.

This is just one example of how I use the problem solving skills and knowledge I obtained during the doctoral process on a daily basis. Part of the reason I chose Princeton as a graduate school relates to my job at CARB. Princeton offered me many opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary research. I knew after I graduated I would search for an interdisciplinary career like this one, a job that allows me to use my science and policy backgrounds every day, and enables me to work in an area that is directly applicable to real world environmental problems.

PEI: What are your section’s near term goals and long term goals?

Edwards: In the near term, our section is working on ensuring our current verifiers and verification bodies are verifying greenhouse gas emissions for our program accurately. California leads the country on this effort, so a long-term goal is to streamline our verification process and establish a program that could serve as a model for any future greenhouse gas reduction program, either on the state level or the national level.

The USEPA may want to look at our experience to develop a national model. Within the past year, USEPA has adopted a greenhouse gas reporting regulation, but it currently does not require third party verification. As time progresses, it will be interesting to see if USEPA begins a verification program. I do hope programs that develop a greenhouse reporting for a Cap-and-Trade Program at least take a look at our program, because we have done an extraordinary amount of cutting-edge work to develop it and we understand its many nuances.

PEI: Who do you engage with the most often and who benefits the most from your research?

Edwards: I interact with numerous groups of people on a daily basis. This includes our verifiers, concerned stakeholders, technical experts from academia, and experts within our own agency. The work I do supports regulatory actions to ensure consistent and transparent processes, and is directly related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If our regulation is clear and works into the future, we are thereby able to reduce California’s air pollution and protect public health of its citizens. Additionally, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we are beginning to work towards protecting our state’s natural resources, such as water supply and unique habitats, by slowing the impacts of climate change on our state.