California Sets Stage for Next Generation of Climate Action

In 2006 when I helped lead the campaign to pass AB 32, California’s landmark global warming law, I used a Blackberry for the first time. It was a brick. A lot has changed since then, technologically and climate-wise: With California’s world class climate program in place, air is cleaner, energy bills are lower, and there are many thousands of new jobs in the clean energy sector.

With some of the most ambitious climate policies in the world, California has grown from the world’s 8th largest economy to the 6th largest—surpassing France—while reducing its carbon intensity, divorcing economic growth from carbon pollution.

The threat from Washington, D.C., these days makes it all the more important that California get it right as we look to the next generation of climate action post-2020. We’ve learned a lot in the last 10 years, including that we need to: keep bringing other states and nations together to fight climate disruption; cutting emissions while growing the economy; making buildings and vehicles more efficient; and building more climate-friendly communities. 

Governor Brown and the state legislature are now considering several proposals that will shape California’s climate future. It’s vital that our elected leaders work together to approve policies that ensure California meets its goals for reducing emissions, improves air quality for hard-hit communities, and continues to grow a successful clean energy economy that uplifts the lives of all Californians. Here’s what NRDC will be working toward as bills like SB 775 (Wieckowski), AB 378 (Garcia), AB 151 (Burke), SB 100 (De León), and others move through the legislative process: 

Continuity in Pricing Carbon Pollution with a Cap on Emissions

California’s cap-and-trade program, which recently surmounted a court challenge, is the state’s backstop for cutting the dangerous pollution driving climate change. It works in concert with a suite of clean energy standards, and acts as an important insurance policy in the overall program to meet the new and stronger emissions reduction targets that have been set for 2030. Effective carbon pricing will play a critical role in meeting those targets and must be explicitly extended beyond 2020. California lawmakers have several options before them on how to move forward, but whatever final decision is made should:

  • Maintain the backstop: Last year’s SB 32 enacted ambitious emissions reductions targets, but they are only as effective as the tools we have to meet them. Preserving a cap on emissions that is enforceable against polluters is an indispensable tool in our climate arsenal. 
  • Improve local air quality: Despite great progress, too many Californians still breathe unhealthy air. As California sets an example for the world on climate action, we need to protect public health in our most vulnerable communities.
  • Protect consumers: California’s climate policies are expanding options and lowering energy costs for consumers thanks to improved efficiency, reduced congestion, and smart policies like the Climate Credits that direct the proceeds from pricing carbon back to households on their utility bills. As the price of fossil fuels goes up, lawmakers should expand on these ideas to protect Californians, especially low-income households.  
  • Grow the clean energy economy: California’s clean energy economy has grown faster than any other state, but needs certainty to grow and expand. As the federal government retreats from its climate commitment, California must continue to provide a business environment where clean energy can thrive.
  • Invest in hard-hit communities: California law directs  proceeds from pricing carbon pollution to fund solutions and drive change in California’s disadvantaged communities. To date, those investments have attracted over $4.5 billion in matching private capital, resulting in over $5 leveraged for every dollar invested.
  • Continue building climate action beyond California’s borders: The markings of California climate policy can be seen around the world. Through linkages and international agreements, California must continue to work with partners, leveraging our experience to export best practices and drive progress in the global fight against climate change.    

On the Road to 100 Percent Clean Electricity 

Senate leader Kevin De León just introduced a bill to accelerate the timetable for California to achieve 100 percent clean electricity. SB 100 moves up the deadline, as well as interim targets, for utilities to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2045. The good news is that California utilities are well ahead of schedule and can get more clean electricity onto the grid faster and we expect that to continue. To take advantage of all this renewable capacity, integrating the currently fragmented Western electricity grid makes good sense. Clean energy now competes favorably with dirty fossil fuels, on price, when it’s available. Integrating the grid would make clean energy more readily available throughout the West.

Given the growth of renewable clean energy in the electricity and transportation sectors, there’s no need to require utility customers to pay for more gas pipelines and natural gas fueling infrastructure, which would happen under SB 100. Private capital is already flowing on natural gas fueling stations so utility customer dollars shouldn’t be used in an already competitive landscape. California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is resulting in contracts for biomethane now. Continuing that fuel standard, together with stricter emission standards on trucks, are much more effective and practical tools to deploy clean fuel and vehicle technologies to reduce transportation pollution. When it comes to buildings, biomethane and clean electricity (on top of reducing energy waste through efficiency) can meet the bill’s goal of reducing natural gas use. 

#PreserveCA

In addition to climate-focused proposals, three strong bills also deserve prompt attention, as they could be key in defending California from the pro-polluter agenda of the Trump Administration. California’s SB 49, the California Environmental and Worker Defense Act, makes current federal clean air, clean water, worker safety, and endangered species standards enforceable under state law if the federal government rolls back and weakens them.

The Public Lands Protection Act, SB 50, is designed to protect California from threats to sell off federal land to private parties for mining or oil drilling. And SB 51, the Whistleblower and Public Data Protection Act, shields the thousands of engineers and scientists working for federal agencies here in California from retaliation if they expose violations of law, unethical actions, or dangers to public health and safety committed by their agencies or others. It also prohibits censorship of information by the federal government.

An analysis by the nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) found that California’s clean energy policies have helped inject $48 billion into California’s economy and created more than 500,000 jobs—benefits that have touched every corner of the state. That’s just one reason why Californians strongly support climate action.

Eleven years after the passage of AB 32, I’ve got a new phone, improved with experience. And as California’s climate policies look to the coming decades, we should take what we’ve learned and build on our success for even more effective programs that protect the planet and the people who call California home. 

About the Authors

Annie Notthoff

Director, California Advocacy, San Francisco and Sacramento

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