California lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping package of bills that would boost the Golden State’s reputation as a national leader in the battle against climate change.
If enacted, the legislation would in the decades ahead trigger fundamental shifts in the kind of cars Californians drive and the way they power their homes and businesses.
The bills would beef up the state’s investments in clean energy, increase building-efficiency standards and cut gasoline use in half by requiring cars and trucks to meet tougher emissions and gas mileage standards.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, a sponsor of the most far-reaching bill, stressed that the proposals are as much about helping the environment as they are about creating jobs for Californians still struggling to rebound from the Great Recession.
“We need to move the state away from fossil fuels, away from the grip of oil,” de León said at a Sacramento news conference. “This is common-sense climate policy.”
The proposals drew wide praise from environmentalists but the wrath of the oil industry.
“Mandates to force reductions in gasoline use are not climate change policies,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association. “They are attacks on an important industry in California designed to create conflict and controversy.”
The legislation mirrors Gov. Jerry Brown’s vision laid out in his State of the State speech last month and sets up another battle over how far California should go to fight global warming – and how much those efforts will cost taxpayers and businesses.
There appears to be a strong chance the legislation will pass this session.
Democrats control large majorities in both the Senate and the Assembly. And the immediate reaction from GOP leaders was surprisingly muted and conciliatory.
“Senate Republicans will give careful consideration to the renewable energy goals revealed by the Senate president pro tem and look forward to a full public debate,” said Senate leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar.
“I’m pleased that the majority party has also recognized our unacceptably high statewide unemployment rate,” Huff said. “It’s the belief of Senate Republicans that any course of action should be weighed against California’s ability to create or sustain jobs for the middle class.”
But Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, blasted the proposal as “blatant coastal elitism at its worst.” He argued that the legislation would kill “thousands of blue- and white-collar jobs in the Central Valley, as well as mountain and inland regions.”
Senate Bill 350, sponsored by de León, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would require the California Air Resources Board to reduce petroleum use by cars and trucks by 50 percent from now until 2030, most likely through rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles, new incentives for electric vehicle purchases and rules requiring lower carbon content of petroleum fuels.
The bill would also require California utilities to generate at least 50 percent of their electricity from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources by 2030 – an increase from the current law that requires 33 percent renewable sources by 2020. It also would require state agencies to toughen building standards to require a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in new and existing buildings from now until 2030.
Another measure in the package, SB 32, sponsored by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, would extend California’s landmark climate law, AB 32. The current law, signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, requires California to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a reduction of about 20 percent from “business as usual.” The state is on target to meet that goal.
The new bill would go much further, locking into law a goal that Schwarzenegger had set: cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The bill would require the California Air Resources Board to set new rules to meet the standards and likely would involve further crackdowns and fees on the oil industry, petroleum power plants and gas-burning vehicles, with more incentives for renewable energy and electric vehicles.
Billionaire Tom Steyer, a former San Francisco hedge fund manager who has helped fund efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and other air pollution, praised the measures, as did environmental advocacy groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.
“These are achievable policy proposals that will create good-paying green jobs here in California, mitigate the impact of climate change and leave a cleaner, safer, more stable world for the next generation,” Steyer said.
De León declined to offer a target for how many jobs the legislation would create, but the bills have strong support from construction worker unions.
“These proposals will create real jobs for real people,” said Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.
“We’re not building cars; we’re not building steel,” Hunter said. “We have to make our own.”
To that end, Senate Bill 189, sponsored by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would establish a seven-member expert committee to advise the Legislature on clean energy and climate policies that could create jobs and spread economic benefits to all levels of society.
The final bill in the package, Senate Bill 185, sponsored by de León, would require that the California Public Employees Retirement System and the State Teacher’s Retirement System divest from companies with 50 percent or more of their revenues in coal mining or coal burning.
CalPERS alone has assets of $295 billion, yet only has coal holdings totaling less than 1 percent of that amount, or $167 million.