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California’s Emissions Goal Is a ‘Milestone’ on Climate Efforts

Gov. Jerry Brown of California in Sacramento on Wednesday, discussing a measure to extend the state’s landmark climate change law. CreditRich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — California will extend its landmark climate change legislation to 2030, a move that climate specialists say solidifies the state’s role as a leader in the effort to curb heat-trapping emissions.

Lawmakers have passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown has promised to sign, bills requiring the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels.

Though the governor had already set a similar goal in an executive order, the legislation will lock the goals into law. The ambitious plan targets both power plants and vehicle emissions.

“This is a real commitment backed up by real power,” Mr. Brown said, calling it a milestone in the state’s climate change efforts. He criticized the oil industry, which fought the legislation, as “Trump-inspired acolytes.”

“The effort to decarbonize our economy in California and in our country is a tough hill, and there is opposition,” he said. “They have been vanquished, and vanquished in a very solid way. So bring it on; there will be more battles and more victories.”

California passed similar legislation in 2006 and is on track to meet its goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Last year, the Legislature failed to pass a bill to cut petroleum use in half by 2030, after the oil industry waged an intensive campaign against it, relying on business-friendly Democrats in the State Assembly.

This year, the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved the emissions bill, which will prioritize reductions from refineries, along with another measure that will give lawmakers more oversight of the state’s Air Resources Board, which oversees the carrying out of the emissions standards. That bill is intended to send more money to poorer communities in the state that suffer some of the worst pollution.

Several legislators from those areas have said that their districts have not benefited enough from money generated by the state’s cap-and-trade program.

Senator Fran Pavley, a Los Angeles-area Democrat who wrote the 2006 legislation and one of the bills passed this week, said that much had changed in the past decade and that state lawmakers were no longer debating the potential effect of climate change.

“People once thought we were being alarmist when we talked about drought and year-round wildfires,” she said. “But all these predictions have come true, and the realities of climate change seem to be accelerating and are tangibly visible sooner than I ever expected. The discussion here now is how to address it, not if.”

The legislation does not address the struggling cap-and-trade program. The program is facing a lawsuit from the California Chamber of Commerce, which contends that the tax is unconstitutional.

Mr. Brown has suggested that he would consider a ballot initiative to get voter approval of the program. It has brought in far less revenue than expected in the most recent auctions, which require companies to buy credits to release greenhouse gas emissions.

John Sterman, a professor and climate policy expert at the MIT Sloan School of Management, said California’s move sent an unambiguous message that major political forces support such action. “It says, We’re committed to this task,” he said. “We’re not going back.”

In a practical sense, Dr. Sterman said, the decision gives companies and innovators clear direction about how to make investments. That could lead companies to drive down their prices in alternative energies, he said.

Still, Dr. Sterman said, even California’s ambitious goals fall short of what will ultimately be needed to head off severe effects of climate change. “As welcome as California’s action is, it’s still not aggressive enough,” he said.

The move solidifies California’s leadership in the United States, said Andrew Jones, a director of Climate Interactive, a nonprofit think tank.

“They’re almost in a class by themselves,” he said, adding the effects were reflected in lower per-capita energy use by state residents. At the same time, he said, California’s efforts set a pace and tone for other states that will be reinforced by extending the law to 2030.

“If we have backsliding in California,” he said, “it hurts other states.”

Though federal emission reduction plans have stalled, several states are setting ambitious new targets. New York recently approved a 50 percent reduction goal for power plants. And Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado said this week that he had drafted an executive order seeking a 35 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from the state’s power plants by 2030 compared with 2012 levels.

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