California Considering Stricter Climate Change Laws

Published March 31, 2015

In response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) call to adopt more aggressive targets to combat climate change, California lawmakers are considering several approaches to force state residents to reduce fossil fuel use and increase the volume of renewable and alternative fuels used.

In his January State of the State address, Brown proposed California reduce its use of gasoline in cars by 50 percent within 15 years, make heating fuels cleaner, and substantially increase the proportion of electricity derived from renewables including wind and solar.

Building on SB 32

All four bills have their roots in SB 32, the landmark climate change legislation signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in 2006. That law mandates California cut its greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Lawmakers responded to Brown’s proposal with a package of four bills to be considered in the months ahead. The most far-reaching of the bills, SB 350, would mandate a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks, a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and a “goal” of 50 percent of all electricity provided by the state’s utilities to be derived from renewable sources, all to be achieved by 2030.

A new SB 32 would require an 80 reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. SB 189 would create a Committee on Maximizing Jobs and Economic Growth to advise the state on how best to spend taxpayer funds on reducing greenhouse gases and promote green energy. Yet another bill, SB 185, would require two state pension funds—the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System—to divest from coal companies.

Utilities Raise Concerns

Although California utilities praised Brown’s initiatives, they are lobbying for more flexibility in whatever bills eventually are passed. Utilities have proposed the state let them take credit for carbon reductions in other states and for existing hydroelectric and nuclear power generation, neither of which counts toward achieving renewable-energy goals under the 2006 law.

In addition, since they will have to provide increased amounts of electricity, utilities are asking the legislature to allow them to count reduced emissions from the increasing number of electric vehicles against their carbon reduction goals.

‘Poor Disproportionately Harmed’

Although Democrats control both houses in the California legislature, it is possible none of the proposals will be adopted, says Tom Tanton, director of science and technology assessment at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute.

“The expanded initiatives may ultimately fail, due to the rift it would cause between green zealots and advocates for the poor and communities of color,” Tanton said. “By further raising the comparative cost of energy in California, for no environmental benefit, the poor will be disproportionately harmed in both health and economics. It can’t be long before advocates for the disadvantaged see that such programs are to their distinct disadvantage.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D.( [email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C.