State lawmakers in California, home to the world’s fifth-largest economy, enacted a slew of laws this week to combat climate change by reducing emissions and hastening the transition away from fossil fuels.
California’s legislature has authorized a record $54 billion in climate investment, along with severe new regulations for oil and gas drilling and a requirement that the state cease further emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2045.
Also, they approved a plan that many environmentalists thought was crazy: giving the final nuclear power plant in California, Diablo Canyon, an additional five years of life. Supporters of the nuclear facility argue that it is necessary to provide emissions-free electricity to California while other clean sources, such as wind and solar, ramp up to meet demand during the current heat wave.
Passage of the measures late on a Wednesday night was a win for Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has pushed to present himself as a climate leader as he has gained national prominence and begun garnering chatter about a possible White House candidacy.
Midway through August, Mr. Newsom shocked legislators by calling on them to enact ambitious climate policies, many of which had previously failed. Ultimately, the State Assembly approved all but one of his proposals: a bill to enhance the state’s 2030 objective for lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Newsom said in a statement, “Together with the leadership of the Legislature, the progress we achieve on the climate catastrophe this year will be felt by generations, and the impact will spread well beyond our borders.”
New measures taken by California give a boost to efforts around the country to reduce pollution from the burning of oil, gas, and coal, the main sources of the greenhouse gasses that are warming the world.
President Biden signed a sweeping climate package in August that will spend $370 billion in wind, solar, and nuclear electricity over the next decade. Climate experts warn that the world must drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but this law alone won’t get us there. Officials from the White House have emphasized that states must do more to help close the gap.
California has some of the most stringent rules in the country to encourage renewable energy and move away from oil, gas, and coal. To hasten the worldwide shift toward cleaner electric vehicles, state regulators last month finalized plans to restrict the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.
But as the state has been hit by record-breaking heat, drought, and wildfires, Mr. Newsom has been under increasing pressure to take action. When lawmakers were casting their votes in Sacramento, the National Weather Service issued a warning that an extremely dangerous heat wave would hit the state.
New legislation passed on Wednesday mandates an 85% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2045, with any remaining emissions to be offset through increased tree planting or the use of experimental technologies like direct air capture, which captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere after it has already been released.
An innovative new law provides low-income Californians without cars with a refundable tax credit of $1,000. These laws are the first of their kind in the country, and they are meant to be an incentive and a reward for people who choose to forgo car ownership.
Policy wonks say the governor deserves credit for finally getting California’s climate change legislation moving. Before Mr. Newsom intervened in early August, putting out a five-point plan and pressing lawmakers to submit bills to his desk, many of the legislature’s climate bills appeared to be stagnating.
According to NextGen Policy’s senior policy consultant David Weiskopf: “For the last few years, the Senate has been the location where climate policy goes to die.” But then Newsom stepped there, and he said, “Let’s get climate done. Something like it had never happened to him before.
The rushed policymaking was criticized by business organizations.
The California Business Roundtable and the California Chamber of Commerce issued a joint statement saying, “Rushing policies that will impact every aspect of California’s trillion-dollar economy through the legislature at the end of session and without time for a thorough debate addressing reliability, affordability, and equity is the wrong approach.”
Some others questioned whether or not Governor Newsom was using this opportunity to further his political career. After successfully staving off a recall campaign last year, the governor is a heavy favorite to be re-elected this November. Advertisements he purchased in Florida and Texas slamming Republican governors over gun and abortion regulations have prompted talk of a run for president in the coming years.
Professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, Thad Kousser commented, “He’s been doing a lot to have the national press talking about him.” But now he’s ready to show some tangible results.