Continuing the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, California lawmakers approved expansive legislation Wednesday that will require ambitious new renewable energy and pollution standards over the coming decades.
In the Senate, the effort was led by President Pro Tem Kevin de León and fellow Democrats, who touted the economic benefits of building a green economy.
“This package of bills will put California on a pathway to sustainable economic growth,” de León said at a news conference following the vote, “protecting the health of our communities and the integrity of our environment, while also spreading a wave of innovation in our energy and transportation sectors.”
The bills approved Wednesday are only halfway through the legislative process and must survive more hearings and votes over the summer. But with Democrats in control and several major proposals echoing the sweeping climate goals Gov. Jerry Brown announced at his inauguration in January, the outcome seems hardly in doubt.
Senate Bill 350, by de Léon, would require the state to generate 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources, halve the amount of petroleum used by vehicles, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings by 2030. Assembly Bill 645 mirrored the Senate measure in compelling California to derive half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
Senate debate on the measure dragged on for nearly an hour, as Republican opponents charged that the Legislature was picking winners and losers in the California economy, at the expense of the inland region’s energy, agriculture and trucking industries.
“SB 350, my friends, is coastal elitism at the worst,” said state Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, “an act that will cut jobs in the Central Valley communities to benefit rich urban areas.”
California would also extend its greenhouse gas emissions limit to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 under Senate Bill 32, by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.
“It is a big number – science-based number, however,” Pavley said, “what we have to do without reaching the tipping point regarding global climate change.”
Assembly Democrats also advanced a measure extending the state’s cap-and-trade program beyond a 2020 sunset date.
Industrial polluters are now required to buy carbon permits, with the proceeds – projected to be in the billions this year – becoming available for more emissions-reducing programs. AB 1288 would allow that scheme to continue, which Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said would give businesses more long-term predictability.
“To continue to give certainty to the market and the business world is what this bill particularly does,” Atkins said.
Moderate Democrats joined more liberal members in backing the measure. Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, who last year led an effort to keep oil producers from being required to buy emissions allowances, said that rural districts like his had benefited from projects funded by the program.
But Republicans excoriated the bill, saying it would deprive voters of a say by empowering bureaucrats in the California Air Resources Board. They also slammed the legislation boosting California’s renewable portfolio standard, arguing it would favor some industries over others and warning that energy producers will not have the capacity to derive half their electricity from renewable sources.
“Let’s not double-down on the stupid,” said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine.
Other climate change bills the Senate passed include:
▪ SB 185, by de León, which would require California’s public employee and teacher pension systems to divest from coal companies.
▪ SB 367, by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, to develop projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agricultural practices.
▪ SB 379, by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, which would require cities and counties to add climate adaptation strategies to their general plans.