SACRAMENTO. Jan. 5, 2014. Saying he is "not going to get inhibited from doing great things," California Governor Jerry Brown's inaugural address announced the most ambitious plan yet for a clean energy economy, one which will make California's leading presence felt in the 2015 global climate talks.
While Brown's written remarks emphasized other critical issues like education, immigrant rights, crime and fiscal responsibility, the boldest and most significant proposals were aimed at rapidly reducing carbon emissions while still promoting jobs and "human well being" in a prosperous economy.
Brown hinted at the possible announcement of a global Green Bloc of states and regions to pressure for the strongest possible global agreement on emissions reductions in the international talks. With the eighth largest economy in the world, California still is ranked as a "subnational entity" in the United Nations climate negotiations. But a united front with Germany, several Chinese states, Mexico and Latin America could place California in the center of the forces demanding drastic goals greenhouse gas reductions starting this year. "California is forging agreements with other states and nations so that we do not stand alone in advancing [our] climate objectives", the governor said.
His energy comments were strongly endorsed by the legislature's leaders, Senate Pro Tem President Kevin de Leon (D. Los Angeles) and Speaker Toni Atkins (D. San Diego).
Specifically, the governor declared three "ambitious goals" to be achieved by 2030, a key deadline if the most catastrophic impacts of climate change are to be averted.
First, to increase the percentage of electricity powered by renewable resources to 50 percent from the current goal of 33 percent. That will include a big boost of rooftop solar, more distributed power, and zero-emission vehicles.
Second, cutting current petroleum use in cars and trucks by 50 percent. According to one top adviser, these initiatives could increase the goal of zero-emission cars from the current 1.5 million to 5-6 million in the next decade, from a current estimate of 22 million on the roads. On-road fuel efficiency will increase to 35 mpg, and alternative fuel use doubled. Health benefits will increase significantly by meeting health-based air quality standards.
Third, doubling the efficiency of existing buildings and making heating fuels cleaner.
The administration will focus on curbing methane and black carbon emissions, the so-called "short-lived climate pollutants" which are more potent than carbon dioxide in the immediate future but remain in the atmosphere for a shorter time period. Attacking these pollutants will have immediate beneficial effects on health improvements and avoided medical costs. They are part of a shift towards jobs and environmental justice benefits, which will broaden the environmental constituency to include labor and communities of color.
The UN Environmental Program estimates that global warming can be cut in half by 2050 by attacking these short-lived climate pollutants.
In California, cutting methane emissions will include projects to capture methane from agricultural products, slashing methane from rice production, tightening landfill regulations, cutting solid waste, using captured methane for transportation fuel, and reducing methane emitted from oil and gas production, including hydraulic fracking.
Black carbon, which is a major health threat, will be attacked by reducing truck and bus emissions, requiring cleaner fuels, better off-road vehicle rules and the like.
Brown's plan also includes managing "farms and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon." All of this, he noted, "is a very tall order."
California is in the midst of spending $120 billion during the next four years on clean energy initiatives, a sum larger than other states and many countries.
Still to come in the near future will be the governor's decision on setting specific 2030 goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as required by the UN guidelines. Especially since the short-lived pollutants will grow in potency in the short-term, the state is required to accelerate its timetable to remain on track to meet the UN climate goals. If California seeks to maintain its leadership, the emissions reduction goals will have to be 50 percent or higher, as recommended by many environmental advocates.
The governor's State of the State made to mention of fracking, which he seeks to control by a significantly larger regulatory apparatus. Fracking, which is a virtual way of life in Kern County and a point of controversy in many local areas, looms as an obstacle to reaching the governor's emission-reduction goals because of its release of methane.
Anti-fracking activists will march on the governor's office in Oakland on Febuary 7.
Neither did the governor address the issue of divestment from fossil fuels being pressed by UC students and 350.org. But Sen. de Leon is introducing a major bill for state pension und divestments from coal, modeled after the Stanford University action last year. That could be coupled with efforts to accelerate the state's declining dependence on out-of-state coal for electricity. Los Angeles, though phasing out its contracts for coal, still remains about 50 percent dependent on coal for the city's electrical power.
A broader fossil fuels divestment initiative, coupled with a mandate to invest in clean energy, is being contemplated as an amendment or separate piece of legislation this year. That would send a message to investors in the fossil fuels industry that it's an increasingly risky business.
The fossil fuels industry, which fought bitterly to exempt itself from the state's 2006 cap-and-trade law last year, is likely to continue to oppose any acceleration of the state's climate program and invest Big Money in cultivating political support in African American, Latino and heavily working-class districts, a strategy employed by Big Tobacco decades ago.
Brown, however, has a war chest of over $25 million to invest in initiatives of his own, if necessary.