Editorials

Take a lesson from California, quit coal

People rally at a news conference in support of President Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent by 2030.
People rally at a news conference in support of President Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent by 2030. The Associated Press

For California, it’s a no-brainer and it has been for years.

We must cut carbon pollution from power plants, particularly coal-fired ones, because they emit the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Greenhouse gases, of course, are a significant contributor to climate change. And climate change, most Californians agree, is not only real, but is a “very serious” problem that humans need to fix.

We get it.

So when President Barack Obama released his Clean Power Plan on Monday, ordering states to, by 2030, cut carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels, most Californians probably shrugged.

Not so in other parts of the country. In the South and Midwest, where fossil fuels not only heat most homes, but provide many of the jobs that pay for those homes, people are hopping mad.

Minutes after Obama’s announcement, a phalanx of Republican governors and attorneys general, led by the ones in West Virginia and Indiana, vowed to challenge the plan in court. Later in New Hampshire, presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called it “a buzzsaw to the nation’s economy.”

California might not have much to do with the legal challenge, which could head to the U.S. Supreme Court, but pollution knows no state boundaries. Or international boundaries, as Gov. Jerry Brown is fond of pointing out. Neither does climate change.

In California, legislation in 2006 by then Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata required utilities to end reliance on coal. Now, at Obama’s urging, the rest of the country should follow.

So we should be concerned. And we should encourage Americans elsewhere to learn from our efforts.

California has been where many states fear to go. Nationally, 67 percent of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. But not here.

Our state remains, due to its size and the number of cars on the road, one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the country, behind No. 1 Texas. But unlike other states that continue to burn coal to generate electricity, a relatively small percentage of California’s emissions comes from power production. Most of it is from vehicles.

Legislation in 2006 by then-Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata required utilities to end reliance on coal, a step that forced developers to cancel the construction of coal-fired plants in nearby states. Investor-owned utilities, PG&E, Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, have weaned themselves. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and some other Southern California cities still use electricity from a coal-fired plant in Utah but will be ending their relationship in the next decade.

For that reason, California expects to “overcomply” with Obama’s plan. It is on track to cut emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The Brown administration also wants to further increase the amount of electricity the state gets from renewable sources and reduce petroleum use.

California has something to teach the rest of the country. Those states waging a war against the inevitable would be wise to listen.

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