Climate Change In California: Can The State Get Through It?

We are approaching a tipping point in California’s fight against climate change.

California’s electric grid operator issued a statement on Friday advising generators and transmission-line operators to postpone any scheduled maintenance beginning today and lasting through Thursday in preparation for the impending assault of 100-plus degree heat.

Diablo Canyon is the last nuclear power plant in California, located in San Luis Obispo. On Thursday night, the office of Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled draught legislation that would give the plant up to 10 more years of life and provide PG&E, the plant’s operator, with a forgivable loan of up to $1.4 billion.

Together, the two measures highlight how close California is to a recurrence of what happened in 2020 when the state was unable to produce enough energy to meet demand and the first rolling blackouts in two decades ensued.

For months, Newsom has advocated for temporarily extending Diablo Canyon’s lifespan past its planned 2025 closure to help shore up the state’s electricity supplies, likely in an effort to avoid power outages as he raises his national profile in preparation for what some suspect is an eventual presidential run.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the draught legislation makes clear the urgency of his proposal by shielding the Diablo Canyon extension from review under the California Environmental Quality Act and several other environmental laws. This would limit the legal challenges that anti-nuclear advocates and other environmental justice groups could bring against the project.

Lawmakers will need to accept Newsom’s plan by the end of the regular session on August 31 unless Newsom calls for a special session, giving them less than three weeks to achieve an agreement on the complex topic. (That’s not the only contentious environmental bill they’re working on; on Friday, Newsom sent them a list of last-minute climate proposals he wants to be enacted, such as speedier reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, revised timelines for achieving 100 percent clean energy, and buffer zones around new oil and gas wells.)

San Luis Obispo Republican Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham said to the Sacramento Bee, “I think (the Newsom administration is) pretty serious” about Diablo Canyon. “Serious enough to be briefing me about it,” he continued, “serious enough to be proposing some bill language in a trailer bill,” and “serious enough to be expending some political capital to try to make the case and get the information to the voters and the public as to why we need it.”

Some environmentalists, however, are upset by the bill’s proposed language: A coalition of environmental groups including Environment California, Friends of the Earth, and the Natural Resources Defense Council has called for its immediate rejection by state lawmakers. This idea is a costly and risky diversion at a time when Governor Newsom and the legislature are trying to appropriate climate budget dollars and advance meaningful climate legislation.

Amidst this whirlwind of proposals, California is preparing to lose its chief climate regulator. On Friday, Newsom said that Laurene Powell Jobs’ new $3.5 billion climate change organization, the Waverley Street Foundation, would be led by Jared Blumenfeld, California’s EPA secretary. With the departure of Blumenfeld, the latest high-ranking employee in the governor’s office, Newsom chose Amelia Yana Garcia Gonzalez, a special assistant attorney general in the California Department of Justice specializing in environmental problems, to fill the vacancy.

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