SB 32: California’s Big Bet on the Environment

by on August 31, 2016 · 0 comments

in California, Culture, Election, Energy, Environment, Health, History, Politics

greenhouse gas emissionsBy Doug Porter

Senate Bill 32 was approved by the California legislature last week along with a companion bill (AB 197), putting the Golden State on a path to further reducing greenhouse gas emissions past the end of the decade.

Gov. Jerry Brown fought long and hard for the legislation mandating an additional 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030. The state is already on track to meeting the goal, set by AB 32 in 2006, to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions back down to 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Not included in the new legislation was extending the state’s cap-and-trade program, arguably a more flexible, lower-cost policy tool to cut emissions. As things stand now, the future of the program is uncertain, as the California’s Chamber of Commerce is in court seeking to overturn the program on the basis that it needed two-thirds approval.

The Governor maintains that SB 32 and AB 197 will provide the leverage he needs to reach a deal with businesses that would prefer a market-based program like cap-and-trade over tougher mandates to cut pollution. Brown says he will put the matter of the program’s future on the 2017 ballot if he has to.

The passage of higher standards for emission reductions was eased by SB 32’s companion bill.

From Capital & Main:

…SB 32 was tied to another measure, Assembly Bill 197, which was designed to quell the fears of the moderate Democrats. Each bill required passage of the other.

AB 197 was authored by former SB 32-doubting freshman Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella). Garcia, like many legislators and public interest groups, was concerned that high-profile emission-reduction programs did little to address the effects of climate change in the hardest-hit communities, such as neighborhoods next to refineries or ports or farming regions, where air quality is often the worst.

Cap-and-trade, for instance, allows big polluters to pollute as long as they pay for credits or offsets purchased in other parts of the state or country. AB 197 requires that the California Air Resources Board, which directs implementation of emission-reduction programs, should target direct reductions at both stationary and mobile sources in those communities. Such direct reductions are bitterly opposed by oil interests and heavy industry.

A Serious Reduction Scenario has a decent explainer about strategies for further reductions in emissions, drawing on research by Jeffery Greenblatt of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He created three models to see what effect various state actions might have. Only one, called Scenario 3, achieved the goals set forth by the legislature for 2030.

Add it up and scenario S3 is serious business. We’re talking about a world where California gets more than 50 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2030 (up from 25 percent today), where zero-emissions vehicles are 25 percent of the fleet by 2035 (up from about 1 percent today), where high-speed rail is displacing car travel, where biodiesel has mostly replaced diesel in heavy-duty trucks, where pastures are getting converted to forests, where electricity replaces natural gas in heating, and on and on.

Possible? Sure. Easy? Hardly. The level of effort is just orders of magnitude different from anything California has done so far.



The Vox story, written by Brad Plumer, concludes:

California is essentially offering itself as a guinea pig in the world’s most important policy experiment. Everyone else will be watching and learning from the state’s successes and failures — whether it can develop the needed clean tech, whether it can spur innovation, whether it can control costs and navigate political opposition, whether it can rejigger the grid to accommodate enormous quantities of renewable power. No pressure!

Overcoming the Odds

The Dirty Energy industry fought passage of this most recent legislation.

As business leader and environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer wrote in the Sacramento Bee:

State of California photo

State of California photo

The passage of SB 32 was far from a sure thing. The oil industry spends millions of dollars every year to pressure state government to put its profit margins before the health of California’s people. The oil industry is one of the biggest moneyed influences in the state Capitol, spending more than $38 million on lobbying and campaign contributions since the start of 2015. Too often, their fear and pressure tactics succeed.

Last year, SB 32 stalled under a barrage of oil industry spending. This year, despite spending $6.4 million on lobbying in the first half of the year and flooding Sacramento with misleading ads, its strategy failed. Nineteen lawmakers who didn’t vote for SB 32 last year supported it this year.

They were not persuaded by sweet strains from woodwind instruments, as one legislator on the losing side suggested. They were responding to the increasingly urgent need to address pollution and climate change before it’s too late. They were recognizing the fact that the clean energy economy has already created 500,000 jobs in our state – and will create many more.

Steyer got his jobs figure from a recently released analysis from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a non-partisan business group.

From the DeSmogBlog:

…AB 32 and related climate policies have pumped some $48 billion into the state economy over the past decade while helping create about 500,000 jobs.

The emissions targets established by AB 32 and the programs that were created to achieve them have funded solar, wind and energy efficiency projects in communities across California and given clean energy investors and companies confidence in the state’s energy market. The upshot, E2 found, is that every single one of the state’s 80 Assembly districts have benefitted from the Golden State’s climate leadership over the past decade.


This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at our associated San Diego Free Press.


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