The Color of Money

 In his recent opinion piece in the LA Times, "Green Meanies," Dr. Edward Glaeser raises a point that many of us here in California are very proud of: On average, Californians consume only about 70% of the energy used by the average American. 

What makes California so special? Why do we pollute less than our neighbors?  While Dr. Glaeser attributed the difference entirely to weather, the real story behind California's success in reducing electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions started in the mid 1970s and continues today.  Until the early 1970s per capita consumption of electricity in California was about equal to the national average and had been growing steadily along with the rest of the country.  Starting in the mid 1970s, California began to adopt a suite of polices to reduce energy consumption. These policies continue to place the state in the lead on maintaining quality of life while reducing both electricity consumption and pollution. 

California has reregulated the investor owned electric utilities, making reducing greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency into a profitable venture.  As a result, investments in energy efficiency by the investor owned utilities will be over three billion dollars in the next three years alone!  California continues to set the high bar for energy efficiency in building codes and appliance standards.  The cumulative effect of these codes and standards is equal to 17% of California's annual electric consumption.

The result? California's electricity consumption per capita has stayed relatively flat over the last 30 years, while the rest of the country has nearly doubled its use of the (mostly fossil fuel fired) juice. Californians use 40% electricity per person and emit about 30% less global warming pollution than the average American. The difference also means lower energy bills and has saved Californian electric customers 56 billion dollars, money they have put to use improving their quality of life and creating 1.5 million new jobs.  

 In recent years California has grown even more ambitious. We passed AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires that California reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  We banned long term investment in electric power sources emitting more greenhouse gasses than a combined cycle natural gas plant.  This year, the legislature will likely adopt a requirement that 33% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.  After only one week in office, the Obama Administration recognized CA leadership by directing the EPA to reconsider its denial of a waiver on California's global warming pollution reduction requirement for cars.  These policies, more than just California's temperate climate, have made California the leader in emissions reductions.

 Still, Dr. Glaeser seems to believe that the best thing California can do to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions is repeal environmental review legislation that supposedly prevents people from living in LA, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego. In fact, Last year, California passed (and NRDC co-sponsored) Senate Bill 375 which requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to assign a green house gas reduction target to each of the state's major regions.  Regions will then design strategies that achieve these reductions through land use and transportation planning.  The bill provides improved environmental review for projects contained in the regional growth plans that achieve the CARB-assigned targets, making carbon-reducing development easier.  Far from closing the door to new inhabitants, SB 375 will help us grow- if the growth is targeted in locations that will help us to achieve our global warming targets. 

All of these polices will build on our history of success in reducing California's global warming emissions.  The good news is that these California policies are available and ready for export.  And while most folks won't move to California just to reduce their emissions footprint, they can take these policies home with them.