Dan Walters

Opinion: What will it cost to cut our carbon?

When Democrat Jerry Brown succeeded Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor four years ago, some gubernatorial policies changed and some didn’t.

The most prominent of the latter is the state’s cutting-edge efforts at reducing greenhouse gases, which both governors believe cause perilous climate change.

Whether that’s true remains, in the eyes of many, an unsettled issue, but California has, under those two governors, fully embraced it as scientifically proven, even though California’s contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide is infinitesimal.

During a brief speech to a United Nations conference a few weeks ago, Brown called California “a hopeful example” as it reduces carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and added that he wants new goals “that will be more ambitious, that will require more technology and will also require heightened political will.”

Brown and his co-believers contend that by leading on carbon reduction, California will benefit economically by developing technology that it can export to other states and nations.

Kevin de León, the new president pro tem of the state Senate, told one audience last month that his priority will be creating “green jobs,” a mantra chanted by many other California politicians.

It’s a dubious pledge, given the very few California jobs that fall into that category now and that creating more depends largely on extracting money from utility ratepayers, motorists and industrial carbon emitters – money that otherwise would be spent somewhere else to create other kinds of jobs.

And that brings us to a plea by the state’s Little Hoover Commission that Brown, et al., come clean on what carbon reduction will cost consumers.

Pedro Nava, a former state legislator who chairs the commission, complained in a letter to Brown and legislators that “we still don’t know what all of these energy-related policies, in the aggregate, will cost.”

No we don’t. We don’t know how acquiring a third of electric power from so-called “renewable” sources will affect power rates or how shifting gasoline into the state’s cap-and-trade program next year will affect pump prices.

Nor do we know what the economic impact will be of higher-density housing that the state is imposing on local communities.

Finally, we don’t know the costs of the even more ambitious carbon reduction goals that Brown evidently intends to advocate in his fourth term, although he says, “It is affordable.”

Living costs in California are already much higher than those of other states, which is not only a factor in attracting job-creating investment but is the main reason California has, under an alternative Census Bureau measurement, the nation’s highest poverty rate.

If Brown, et al., are proud of what they are doing, they should have the good manners to tell Californians how it will lighten their wallets.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.