California Considers Sweeping Proposals To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Sep 3, 2015
Originally published on September 3, 2015 7:39 pm

Some of the world's most ambitious climate change legislation is currently under consideration in America. But the lawmakers in question aren't in D.C. — they're in Sacramento.

California lawmakers are intensely debating far-reaching goals to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill contains three proposals: one to double energy efficiency in buildings, one to derive 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources and one head-turning proposal to cut petroleum use in vehicles by half — all in the next 15 years.

California has a reputation for going one step beyond the status quo of environmental policy.

Now it's doing it again with climate change — and lawmakers say the state's track record gives them confidence to propose much tougher rules.

California's previous environmental efforts have included years spent working to make cars run more cleanly. At a recent event in Stockton, Calif., drivers could check smog pollution and receive repair vouchers — and owners of high-polluting cars were invited to test drive electric vehicles.

Legislators hope at least a million low-emission vehicles will be on the road in the coming years. Funds from California's 9-year-old global warming law currently help people buy them, and there's widespread belief California will meet the 2020 emission reduction goals that law set.

But Gov. Jerry Brown says California's current climate change work isn't enough. The proposed legislation lays out his loftier goals.

"This is exciting, it's bold," Brown says. "It's absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system."

Catherine Reheis-Boyd of the Western States Petroleum Association is fiercely opposed to the gasoline reduction goal.

"It is a mandate to accomplish an infeasible goal, within an infeasible time," she says.

She says there are no details about how the goal can be accomplished in the bill. "That has huge impacts on jobs, the economy, people's ability to move, and to have energy security in the state of California."

But Washington, D.C.-based Resources for the Future says California's proposed goals are both ambitious and feasible.

What's more, says senior fellow Dallas Burtraw, "the ambition is going to be contagious."

Burtraw says for decades, California has been ahead in environmental policymaking. When the nation catches up, the state takes one step forward again.

He says if the legislation passes, D.C. would again take notice, and California would be the buzz of climate talks in Paris this December.

"It will be taken as a — more than a signal, almost a ratification that we are going down this pathway inevitably," Burtraw says, "and many innovators and investors I expect to really come full in."

But if California wants to reduce global pollution, it shouldn't get too distracted with state goals, says UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein. California emits only about 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, he says, so the focus should be on cleaner technology for the developing world.

"We have a responsibility for not just reducing ours, but in actually figuring out how the developing world can develop in a way that's not going to be as greenhouse-gas-intensive as the way we did," he says.

And, Borenstein says, technological innovation is an area where California has the resources to take the lead.


Pauline Bartolone is a reporter for CALmatters, a nonprofit journalism venture dedicated to explaining California policies and politics.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

California has a reputation for going one step beyond the status quo of environmental policy. It's doing it again with climate change. State lawmakers are debating some of the world's most far-reaching goals to curb emissions. As Pauline Bartolone in Sacramento reports, lawmakers say the state's track record gives them confidence to propose much tougher rules.

PAULINE BARTOLONE, BYLINE: The bill is actually three proposals - one to double energy efficiency in buildings. Another is to derive 50 percent of electricity from renewables. And the one that has turned the most heads - cutting petroleum use in vehicles by half, all in the next 15 years.

Making cars run more cleanly - California's been working on that one for years. At this Stockton event to check smog pollution and give repair vouchers, drivers of high-polluting cars are invited to test drive electric vehicles. Mary Serrano's hopping into a bright red Chevy Spark.

MARY SERRANO: I feel like I'm going to outer space (laughter).

BARTOLONE: Lawmakers hope at least a million low-emission vehicles will be on the road in the coming years. Funds from California's nine-year-old global warming law now help people buy them. There's widespread belief California will meet the 2020 emission reduction goals that law set. But this year, Governor Jerry Brown says California's current climate change work isn't enough. The goals in this legislation are his.

JERRY BROWN: This is exciting. It's bold. It's absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.

(APPLAUSE)

CATHERINE REHEIS-BOYD: It is a mandate to accomplish an infeasible goal within an infeasible time.

BARTOLONE: Catherine Reheis-Boyd of the Western States Petroleum Association is fiercely opposed to the gasoline reduction goal. She says there are no details about how the goal can be accomplished in the bill.

REHEIS-BOYD: That has huge impacts on jobs, the economy, people's ability to move and to have energy security in the state of California.

BARTOLONE: But Washington, D.C.,-based Resources for the Future says California's proposed goals are ambitious and they are feasible.

DALLAS BURTRAW: And the ambition is going to be contagious.

BARTOLONE: Senior fellow Dallas Burtraw says for decades, California has been ahead in environmental policy-making. When the nation catches up, the state takes one step forward again. He says if the legislation passes, D.C. would again take notice, and California would be the buzz of climate talks in Paris this December.

BURTRAW: It will be taken as a - more than a signal, almost a ratification that we are going down this pathway inevitably and many innovators and investors, I expect, to really come full in.

BARTOLONE: But if California wants to reduce global pollution, it shouldn't get too distracted with state goals, says UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein. California only emits about 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, he says, so the focus should be on cleaner technology for the developing world.

SEVERIN BORENSTEIN: We have a responsibility for not just reducing ours, but in actually figuring out how the developing world can develop in a way that's not going to be as greenhouse-gas-intensive as the way we did.

BARTOLONE: And Borenstein says technological innovation is an area where California has the resources to take the lead. For NPR News, I'm Pauline Bartolone in Sacramento.

SIEGEL: That story came to us from CALmatters, a non-profit journalism venture that's dedicated to explaining California policies and politics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.