California Is On The Verge Of Making Climate History

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D- Los Angeles, seated center, talks with reporters about climate change during a news conference with Bishop Jaime Soto of the Sacramento Catholic Dioceses, seated left and Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Stockton Diocese, seated right in Sacramento, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders are locked in a late-hour battle against oil companies to secure ambitious climate change legislation for California

This week, California could make history in its efforts to combat climate change.

Members of the state Assembly will vote this week on California’s climate bill package, which breezed through the Senate and three separate Assembly meetings earlier this year. If the package of bills passes this next obstacle, it will be signed in to law by the governor.

This bill package, which has been called “historic,” outlines aggressive action to fight climate change. It is no surprise for California, though, since the state already has one of the highest renewable portfolio standards in the country, which requires 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2016, and 33 percent by 2020. Governor Jerry Brown has made climate and environmental issues the focal point of his fourth term.

The climate package is composed of 12 bills which seek to address many environmental and health concerns, such as off-shore drilling, divestment, water quality, energy efficiency in disadvantaged communities, and increased public transportation. One of the bills, Senate Bill (SB) 32, has already failed in the Assembly — lawmakers voted Tuesday against the bill, which would have locked California in to reducing its emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The bill could be brought up again for another vote later this week.

The package’s most far-reaching goal, however, is outlined in SB 350. The bill, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León and Senator Mark Leno, calls for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks, a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and for 50 percent of the state’s utility power derived from renewable energy, all by 2030. The bill’s goals are nearly identical to those called for by Gov. Jerry Brown in his inaugural address in January.

The bill has been receiving the largest amount of pushback, mostly from oil companies, agro-businesses and a handful of moderate Democrats. According to the Sacramento Bee, an estimated 20 Assembly Democrats met with Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins in late August to voice their concerns over the legislation, saying SB 350 doesn’t clearly state how it will affect motorists. Democrats control 65 percent of the California Assembly, but if these holdouts combine with Republicans to vote “no” on the legislation, it could mean the end for SB 350 in this legislative session.

“There’s absolutely no plan in front of us telling us how they’re going to reduce petroleum by 50 percent by 2030,” Assemblyman Henry Perea, one of the moderate Democrats, told the Sacramento Bee. The Western States Petroleum Association has also expressed concern over how the California Air Resources Board would implement the policies laid out in SB 350.

“This package of bills represents the most far-reaching effort to fight climate change in the history of our nation,” said De León on the Senate floor in June. De León also argued that his bill will stimulate employment and further invigorate California’s clean economy, which has already generated thousands of jobs. He said in late August that he’s working to draft amendments to SB 350 that would address some concerns about the California Air Resources Board’s oversight.

California’s climate bill package supporters include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the American Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and many other clean energy businesses, contractors, and campaigns. Steven Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, argued in a Huffington Post piece that the bill successfully sets goals, but allows for enough flexibility in how the state reaches those goals. He also points out that the state has a decade and a half to transition part of its motor vehicle fleet from the internal combustion engine, which could be feasible with tax incentives and other techniques.

Even with all of the environmental-related tensions stirring in the California Senate, the state has still managed to make strides in making the planet healthier. Just this past week, the California Assembly passed a bill that prompts public employee pension funds to divest from coal by July 2017. Los Angeles has also been moving forward to legalize urban beekeeping in local backyards. The California Environmental Protection Agency also recently announced its plan to label Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide as carcinogenic.