State’s new climate law could resonate across nation — if Clinton wins

Source: Debra Kahn and Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporters • Posted: Tuesday, September 13, 2016

California leaders are describing the state’s ambitious new law on greenhouse gases, signed last week, as a signal to federal lawmakers that the nation is ready for a strong plan to address climate change.

The measure, S.B. 32, requires California to reduce its carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2030. It’s the most aggressive target offered by any state.

“This is big, and I hope it sends a message across the country,” said Gov. Jerry Brown (D) at a signing ceremony Sept. 8 in a Los Angeles park. “And those Republicans in Congress — God help us if they win again, but if they do, may they be converted; may they see the light before it’s too late.”

California’s ability to influence federal policy, as well as that of other states, largely depends on the outcome of the presidential election.

“California’s take on climate change is directly at odds with [Republican nominee Donald] Trump’s view that it’s a hoax, so if he becomes president, California will be on its own,” said Dan Farber, director of the environmental law program at the University of California, Berkeley. “However, it would provide support for [Democratic nominee Hillary] Clinton’s approach and for the Clean Power Plan,” the regulations to reduce greenhouse gases from existing power plants that President Obama put forth last year.

If the Clean Power Plan survives legal challenges and is supported by the next administration, California’s emissions targets could be an example for the rest of the country.

“I think it bolsters the Clean Power Plan by showing that one of our biggest states, economywise, is set to achieve even more aggressive targets than what’s called for in the federal plan,” said Ethan Elkind, associate director of the Climate Change and Business Program at both UC Berkeley and UCLA’s law schools.

“It also undermines the arguments of other states that it’s just too hard to comply,” he added. “And, of course, it may inspire other states to follow California’s lead as well as potentially join California’s carbon market. Ultimately, it’s a powerful political signal for policymakers and industry alike.”

Another observer said S.B. 32 would bolster Clinton’s climate platform by allowing her to point to California as an example of climate policies that help promote renewable energy, clean energy technologies and electric vehicles.

“There’s real economic value in developing the technologies that are going to be used the world over,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “We continue setting the goal in a way that kind of pushes the rest of the country in our direction and demonstrates that you can have economic vitality and address climate change at the same time. We’re providing the model that makes other states want to follow.”

The Clinton and Trump campaigns did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation.

Phillips pointed out that California has now enacted climate laws under both Republican and Democratic governors. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed A.B. 32, the 2006 law that set an initial target of 1990 levels by 2020. That measure and the one signed last week were both introduced by state Sen. Fran Pavley (D).

“The most important thing about S.B. 32 is that it shows that this whole effort in California to address climate change and to be assertive in addressing climate change is embraced by the Legislature, and was embraced by a previous Legislature, a previous governor of a different party,” Phillips said. “It shows that this is a core value that runs through more than one generation of legislators and governors. Because it is, it sends a pretty powerful signal to the polluting industries. This isn’t just a blip. This means you guys really have to change what you’re doing.”

Tim O’Connor, director of the California oil and gas program at the Environmental Defense Fund, agreed.

“We think this package is going to make a dent in the future of the climate and sets California up to act as a new guidepost for the nation and for other states,” he said. “California now has emissions reductions targets that are as ambitious as Europe’s. Why can’t the rest of the country follow suit?”

Not everyone agrees. Republican state Sen. Jean Fuller, based in the Central Valley, called S.B. 32 “job killing legislation.”

“Climate change policies already passed by the majority party have had a drastic and negative impact on Kern County, costing us hundreds of energy jobs and causing our local economy to suffer,” Fuller said in a statement. “Instead of working to improve our energy infrastructure, create jobs and make energy more affordable for California families, the majority party has decided to just double down on their misguided and destructive approach with little thought to how it will affect Kern County and all Californians.”

O’Connor cited statistics he said show that California’s climate policies have been beneficial economically. From 2013 through 2015, the state added more than 900,000 jobs, a 5.4 percent rate of growth. That outpaced the 1.8 percent job growth in the rest of the nation during that period, according to an EDF chart.

From 2006, when A.B. 32 became law, through 2015, California has received $28.1 billion in venture capital investment, more than the $23.1 billion in the rest of the nation combined, EDF said.

If Trump is elected and blocks federal action on climate, Phillips said, states will continue to be the place where climate action takes place, and California will lead.

“It makes us more important than ever,” Phillips said. “We will be a shining light in the desert.”

State efforts become very important, she said, because that’s where “you keep moving the ball forward.”

States become the laboratories for testing climate technologies and other solutions, she said, adding that other states will look to California and the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley that have supported action on climate.

“There’s a reason other states compete for our high tech and our solar manufacturing and our clean energy expertise,” Phillips said.

De-emphasizing cap and trade

State officials also sought to portray the new target as a move toward connecting climate change policies more firmly to conventional air pollutants, which disproportionately affect poor communities of color.

Along with S.B. 32, Brown signed A.B. 197, by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D). The bill gives lawmakers more oversight of the California Air Resources Board (ARB), the agency charged with creating regulations to achieve the targets, and was written so that S.B. 32 could not take effect without it.

In a concession to environmental justice groups that have opposed cap and trade, it requires ARB to prioritize regulations that reduce direct emissions from stationary and mobile emissions sources.

While the practical effect of that provision is still unclear, lawmakers who are more sympathetic to anti-market environmentalists will have a greater role in the future.

Pavley is termed out this year, and California’s term-limits adjustment in 2012 means that newly elected lawmakers can serve 12 years in either the Senate or Assembly, rather than eight years in the Senate and 6 in the Assembly.

Garcia was elected in 2014. “Eduardo has probably 10 more years,” Pavley said. “You will be looking out, extending the targets of S.B. 32 another 10, 15 years, maybe to 2050.”

If A.B. 197 does affect cap and trade, it could put a wrinkle in California’s Clean Power Plan compliance strategy, Elkind said. California plans to use cap and trade as the method of proving that its policies meet EPA’s targets, although a lawsuit against the auction-based program is still active. S.B. 32 also does not explicitly provide for cap and trade’s extension past 2020, although Brown has vowed to get authorization for the policy through either additional legislation or a ballot initiative.

“I think the passage of A.B. 197 makes the future of the program even more murky,” Elkind said. “That will have implications for how California complies with the Clean Power Plan, but ultimately the state will find a way to comply, either through markets or direct regulation. So the bigger issue, if the program isn’t reauthorized or is struck down in the courts, is that it could take the option of a carbon market off the table for other states that would have only created one under the Clean Power Plan if they could join with California’s.”