California poised to lead nation on climate policy

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference on the horizon this December in Paris, California could be poised to lead the nation on climate policy.

Leaders of the California state senate last week introduced a package of four bills to sharply cut the use of fossil fuel in the state while boosting the use of renewable energy and requiring more energy efficient buildings.

California Senate Pro-Tem Kevin de Leon announced the introduction of the bills at a press conference Tuesday at the state capitol, flanked by Democratic colleagues, renewable energy entrepreneurs, environmental leaders, consumer advocates, labor representatives, and workers in hard hats employed in the renewable energy sector.

One of the bills De Leon authored, SB 350, calls for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks, a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and a 50 percent jump in the use of renewable energy by state utilities, all by 2030.

Predictably, the Western States Petroleum Association declared it is “strongly opposed” to SB 350.

If approved by both houses of the state legislature where Democrats make up majorities, it is likely California Gov. Jerry Brown would sign the bill into law given that he called for goals similar to SB 350 in his January inaugural address.

This would be a considerable improvement over current California law that requires utilities receive 33 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2050.

In a slap at Republicans who deny climate change and argue transitioning from fossil fuel to clean energy would result in major job losses, De Leon said, “Choosing between climate change policies and policies that build economic growth is a false choice… An economy built on fossil fuels is an economy built on shifting sand.”

He added, “The bottom line is: common-sense, sensible climate change policy is economic growth policy for the state of California.”

By pitching the bills as major job-creating initiatives, De Leon aims to solidify the support of moderate Democrats as well as blunt the opposition of Republicans, the fossil fuel industry and investor-owned utilities.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti -whose city’s Department of Water and Power is the largest publicly owned and operated municipal utility in the nation – declared, “Reducing carbon pollution is a top priority for Los Angeles, and I look forward to working with the Senator (De Leon) to advance the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

Also, strongly supporting De Leon’s bill is Los Angeles-based IBEW Local 11 Business Manager Marvin Kroepe.

Similarly, Daniel M. Curtin, the director of the California Conference of Carpenters, said, “We look forward to providing the skilled workforce that will build our renewable energy future providing jobs for our members and energy to fuel our 21st Century economy.”

In a bid to spur private investment in renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, De Leon emphasized, “Clean technology companies in California are creating more jobs and investing more money than competitors in any other state, and these policies will keep this momentum going and expand its reach.”

The other three bills would also improve on current California law.

SB 32, introduced by Democratic Senator Fran Pavley, sets an all-embracing climate pollution reduction target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

A third bill, SB 189, would create the Committee on Maximizing Jobs and Economic Growth, a seven-person body that would advise the state on how best to spend funds to transition to clean energy.

The final bill, SB 185, would give a boost to the national and international movements to divest from fossil fuel.

The bill would require the massive state portfolios in the Public Employees Retirement System and the State Teacher’s Retirement System to divest their holdings from coal companies.

Meanwhile, California stands to help the nation meet the goals set for the U.S. by President Barack Obama last year in the milestone agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to cut greenhouse emissions in preparations for the UN Climate Change Conference.



Juan Lopez
Juan Lopez

Juan Lopez is chairman of the Communist Party in northern California and statewide coordinator. He has been a labor and community activist during the nearly forty years he's lived in Oakland, where he and his wife raised three children. He was formerly a member of the Teamsters union and a shop steward.