Meeting our environmental responsibilities

I recently had the opportunity to make a brief presentation to the California State Assembly Democratic caucus.  I was asked to be on a panel discussing proposed legislation to increase California's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 35%.  Since many of the Assemblymembers had never served in the Assembly and typically knew little about California's history of leadership on energy policy, I thought it would be useful to offer a longer-term perspective on this initiative.  Here's what I had to say:


Thank you all for the opportunity to be with you today. As a native of his Assembly district -- St. Joseph's hospital in Burbank -- I particularly want to thank Assemblymember Krekorian for the invitation.

Understandably, with the economic crisis, we are all intently focused on the immediate future. Rightly so.  This is the beginning of what will be an ... interesting legislative session and a busy one.

But, since it is still just early January, I want to ask you to pause and take a step back for a moment.  With your permission, with the 5 minutes I've been allotted, I want to try to offer a long-term perspective, such as I can, on the Renewable Portfolilo Standard legislation - AB64 - that is before us this morning.

 In 1974, the Legislature passed, and Governor Reagan signed, the Warren-Alquist State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Act.  Charles Warren of Warren-Alquist served in the Assembly.  I was in high school.

The Warren-Alquist Act grew out of the battle over power plant siting. The first oil crisis was in 1973 and the utilities wanted to build nuclear power plants up and down the coast.  Meanwhile environmental activists were doing whatever they could to block the utilities.

The Warren-Alquist Act marked an historic compromise between the utilities and environmentalists.  Basically, the utilities agreed to support a process by which the need for new power plants would be tested against opportunities to reduce the demand for energy and renewable resources would be encouraged and supported. In exchange, power plant citing would be facilitated by a centralized processs at a new agency, now known as the Energy Commission, still in that "freezing cold in the winter building" up at 9th and P.

The passage of the Warren Alquist Act also marked the beginning of a decision by this state to exercise national leadership on energy policy.  Since then, California has led the nation and, to a significant degree, the world.  Since the mid-70s, per capita electricity consumption in California has remained flat, while it increased by 60% for the U.S. as a whole. The electricity consumption of a new refrigerator has dropped by 2/3, as a result of  appliance standards adopted over at 9th and P.  And California was one of the first states to adopt an RPS.  We now have in place one of the most ambitious RPS policies in the nation  - 20% of our electricity from renewable resources by 2010.

I started working for NRDC in 1984.  While energy issues have momentarily captured the attention of federal policymakers over the years, here in California we've had an energy policy on the books and in the field for over 30 years. We have progressive utilities, a highly supportive populace, and  the best techological innovation infrastructure on the planet.  You've probably noticed that the State is also rife with environmentalists.  Which brings us to the present day.

Given the cavalcade of events and the financial mayhem in the world today, it's difficult to take your eyes off your Blackberry long enough to look much beyond the latest crisis.  But when you do, I believe that it's abundantly apparent that bold policy on renewable energy is a key part of the solution to our climate crisis, our energy security crisis, and to our economic crisis.

We have an historic opportunity before us, bringing to bear our experience and the public resources we've developed over 30 years, to exercise global leadership in order to build a cleaner, a safer, and a more prosperous future for our state, for our country and for our world.  We won't agree on everything. Between the utilities, the renewable developers, the local communities  and the environmentalists no one is going to be totally happy.  But we are all commited to working towards the same end. With your leadership you can -- and you should -- pass a 35% RPS this year. By doing so, we can make an enormous difference.

Thank you.