Gov.-elect Newsom will inherit ambitious climate policies

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2018

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) handily won his race yesterday to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown (D), setting up the state’s first Democrat-to-Democrat gubernatorial handoff since 1887.

Newsom defeated San Diego businessman John Cox (R) 57 percent to 43 percent.

Newsom will enter office with a strong mandate on climate policy thanks to the outgoing Brown, who signed laws over the past two years extending the state’s greenhouse gas targets through 2030 and authorizing cap and trade as a backstop policy.

Climate policy observers highlighted transportation as the key area for Newsom to tackle. At 41 percent, it’s the largest contributor to California’s greenhouse gas emissions. And unlike the power sector, transportation’s emissions are rising.

“Any mix of measures Newsom prioritizes really has to deal with cars, fuels and alternative transit,” said Cara Horowitz, co-executive director of the UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. “In 10 years, we need to see far fewer cars that burn fossil fuels in California. We’re reaching a tipping point for electric vehicles and alternative fuels, and Newsom should push hard to keep us moving in the right direction.”

The Trump administration has dealt a challenge to the state’s efforts to lower transportation emissions by proposing to keep joint state-federal fuel economy standards at 2020 levels, rather than raise them annually through 2026 as the Obama administration had planned.

Newsom has taken a pugnacious stance against President Trump on Twitter and in the media (“You gotta go after a bully,” he said in a New Yorker profile Monday), and has devoted much of the campaign season to helping Democratic House candidates.

To meet the state’s goal of reducing emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 — and achieving total carbon neutrality by 2045, as Brown specified in a September executive order — Newsom will have to continue taking a hard line against Trump while also pursuing in-state initiatives.

“My strong sense is that we need participation from the federal government to achieve the reductions in the transportation sector,” said Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of the Los Angeles nonprofit Climate Resolve. “We simply don’t have the authority to deal with mobile sources, as much as needed.”

Tackling transportation will also require an entry into housing policy, which Newsom has highlighted in his campaign as an economic issue. Lawmakers this year briefly considered a sweeping bill that would have allowed multistory apartment buildings near high-frequency transit stops statewide. It quickly ran into opposition, but observers expect it to return in some form next year.

“The low-hanging fruit has been picked off, and now the real work is going to start in making some difficult decisions,” said Alvaro Sanchez, environmental equity director for the Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income people and communities of color.

Newsom will also face in-state opposition to continuing Brown’s trajectory, from both the right and the left.

“The main thing is for California to continue to demonstrate that we can rein in emissions while growing our economy — and that this is true even as our emissions targets tighten,” Horowitz said. “California has set ambitious climate goals, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the world is watching to see how we meet them. Newsom should embrace these goals in a way that leaves no room for speculation by industry or others about the state’s continued commitment.”

On the left, groups representing some of the state’s disadvantaged communities will be pushing for alternatives to cap and trade, which they say allows businesses to continue emitting and potentially increase conventional pollution at individual facilities.

Activists will also continue lobbying for the state to rein in its oil production.

“With Gavin Newsom, it’ll be really interesting to see if he’s a new governor with new leadership … whether from the outset he sets out to create his brand of leadership, or whether he will plant more faith and continue to function within the parameters that Brown has set out,” said Gladys Limón, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance.

Offshore drilling foe wins lieutenant governor slot

In the race to succeed Newsom as California’s lieutenant governor, former Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis defeated state Sen. Ed Hernandez.

The Democrat-on-Democrat race received scant media attention this year, but both candidates sought to emphasize their environmental credentials during the campaign.

California’s lieutenant governor sits on the three-member State Lands Commission, which controls state-owned tracts and offshore oil resources and issues permits for navigable waterways. The post also comes with a seat on the California Coastal Commission.

Kounalakis, who was President Obama’s ambassador to Hungary, campaigned on opposing President Trump’s promises to open up the west coast to offshore drilling.

She was backed by the League of Conservation Voters as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

Kounalakis’ father, Angelo Tsakopoulos, is a prominent Sacramento real estate developer. In the early 2000s, he took a Clean Water Act dispute with EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers concerning his plowing of a ranch in California’s Central Valley to the Supreme Court, which ultimately split 4-4 in the case, Borden Ranch v. Army Corps of Engineers (Greenwire, May 7).