Climate

California’s Senate Passes Sweeping Climate Change Legislation

CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

The California Senate passed a package of bills this week to address climate change, legislation that includes a plan to reduce gasoline use on California’s roads by 50 percent, increase energy efficiency by 50 percent, and have 50 percent of California’s electricity come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

The 12 bills also include measures to direct cap and trade funds toward public transportation infrastructure, extend the emissions reduction target to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and divest California’s public pensions from coal.

“This package of bills represents the most far-reaching effort to fight climate change in the history of our nation,” Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León said in a statement. “These bills put California on path to sustainable economic growth, while also protecting the health of our communities.”

California has generally been leading the charge in the Unites States on addressing climate change. These bills echo previous initiatives by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who released higher emissions reductions targets in April. Brown also signed an agreement with Mexico in May to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address other environmental issues. He signed another 11-party agreement last month with city leaders around the world to help pave the way to keeping climate change under the 2°C limit, which is assumed as necessary to avoid some of the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

California is also acutely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and fossil fuel use. The state is in the midst of a historic drought, which is intensifying forest fire risks, damaging the agriculture business, and raising concerns about the state’s future. The drought has been specifically tied to climate change. In addition, in May, an oil pipeline burst near Santa Barbara at a state beach, spilling thousands of gallons of oil.

One bill addresses offshore oil and gas drilling, seeking to close a loophole that allows some offshore drilling close to the spill’s location.

“As long as you drill, there will be spills,” Santa Barbara Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson said. The bill would not close any existing wells, but it would prohibit any news ones in California waters.

California Republicans criticized the new measures, which still have to be approved by the Assembly before they are sent to the governor’s desk.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff called the bill package a “lofty and noble goal,” but questioned whether or not it would accomplish anything. Other lawmakers said the bill would be a job killer.

California already has one of the highest renewable portfolio standards in the country, requiring 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2016, and 33 percent by 2020. Unsurprisingly — or surprisingly, whichever way you want to look at it — these policies have not killed California’s economy. The solar industry employs nearly 55,00 Californians, and last year $11.75 billion was spent on solar in the state.