LOS ANGELES — Climate change is a severe threat that transcends day-to-day political issues and must be tackled aggressively, California Gov. Jerry Brown said here yesterday as he promoted his executive order seeking a 40 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2030.
"There’s nothing as serious as the possibility of fundamentally and radically altering the conditions of human existence in a profoundly detrimental way," the Democrat told people gathered at the Navigating the American Carbon World conference. "That’s the stakes. They couldn’t be bigger."
Brown yesterday morning ordered the cut in heat-trapping pollution to a target of 40 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years. That would put the state halfway to its goal of by 2050 getting carbon levels 80 percent below 1990’s point.
Environmentalists and renewable energy advocates lavished praise on Brown’s move. Some analysts said it would create the certainty needed for investments in new energy technologies, including more power storage. An oil industry trade group said the governor’s action prompted many questions. It noted that in January, Brown said he wanted to halve the state’s petroleum consumption and achieve 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
"What do you do, take 23 million cars" now driving on California roads "and cut that in half?" said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of oil industry trade group Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). Even if half the drivers switch to electric vehicles, she questioned whether there will be enough charging infrastructure.
Ken Alex, director of the state’s Office of Planning and Research and a senior policy adviser to Brown, said major changes would be needed to accomplish the governor’s goal.
"Look, this is 40 percent," Alex said while speaking on a panel at the Navigating the American Carbon World conference. "Think about your day and the greenhouse gas emissions that are related to things that you do." It will affect "pretty much every sector," he said, although as 75 percent of emissions come from the transportation and energy worlds, that would be a focus.
Setting a ‘high bar’ ahead of Paris talks
The machinery needed to put the order into action is already gearing up. California agencies with jurisdiction — including the Air Resources Board, Energy Commission and Public Utilities Commission — have been told to launch their processes for enacting administrative policies, Alex said. The first step often is holding workshops with the public.
Brown is also talking with the Legislature. While there’s existing authority to roll out paths to the 40 percent cut, "we may need additional" clout, Alex said.
The governor said that meeting the 40 percent greenhouse gas cut would "require creative responses on the part of industry, agriculture, energy, government, local and state."
"I’ve set a very high bar, but it’s a bar we must meet," Brown added. "It’s a bar not only for California, but it’s a goal for other states, for the United States as a whole and for nations around the world. California is now setting the pace, and we’re very serious about it."
Brown’s announcement took place as California prepares for what it hopes will be a significant role this fall at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris.
California is uniting with other subnational governments in an effort to gain more recognition at the U.N. climate talks for their policies. Alex said yesterday that on May 19, the alliance will release a list of the founding signatories to the "Below 2 MOU pledge."
That pact seeks to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, generally agreed upon by scientists as needed to stave off environmental catastrophe. Developed countries in the subnationals agreement would pledge to keep their emissions to no more than 2 tons per year by 2050.
Each subnational government that joins the group also will lay out what it will be doing in the 2030 time period, Alex said.
"Very few folks are looking to Washington, D.C., for leadership on the issue of climate," state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León (D) said yesterday when he and Brown spoke at the the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles. "California as a subnational will have a leading role in Paris."
Pressure groups prepare for battle
In California, groups already were forming plans to help shape future emissions rules.
Reheis-Boyd, with the oil group WSPA, said that the Legislature needs to be involved in decisionmaking on a greenhouse gas emissions cutback target.
"Who’s going to get the phone calls," she asked, "from constituents" that likely would be hardest hit, like those in the San Joaquin Valley already suffering amid high unemployment? WSPA, as well, will be talking to lawmakers on the issue, she said.
"We’re going to work in this space, obviously, with the governor and the Legislature," said Reheis-Boyd. "You are going to hear us really looking at timing, cost-effectiveness, feasibility, all of those basic core things that have to happen for this to be successful."
Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips said Californians could meet the new goal by "cutting our dependence on carbon-based fuels — natural gas, oil and coal — to produce electricity and move vehicles."
"Now it is up to the Legislature to help put policies in place this year that will further advance renewable energy, zero-emission vehicles and greater energy efficiency to make sure we can more than meet the 2030 goals," Phillips said.
New bills back 2030 target
In Sacramento yesterday, lawmakers heard disagreements about a bill to set the 2030 greenhouse gas target and another one to mandate electricity, petroleum and building efficiency measures to achieve the goal.
S.B. 32 would, like its 2006 predecessor A.B. 32, authorize the California Air Resources Board to set greenhouse gas targets from a 1990 base line. The bill would authorize the creation of targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050.
A separate bill by De León, S.B. 350, would mandate a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard, a halving of petroleum use and a doubling of existing buildings’ energy efficiency by 2030.
Industry representatives faulted both bills for their lack of specificity, criticizing S.B. 32 for omitting any mention of a cap-and-trade program, the emissions market that forms the backbone of the current set of emissions-cutting regulations.
"In A.B. 32, there was a substantial debate and discussion around whether they should have a market-based mechanism," said Eloy Garcia, a lobbyist for oil group WSPA. "We shouldn’t forget that."
Garcia also said it is too early to declare the existing regulations an economic success, as some studies have done. "We haven’t met the first compliance period," Garcia said. "To sit here and say it’s been a wild success is like taking out a huge loan and saying, ‘I haven’t made a payment yet, but I took out a loan.’"
Most recently, the nonprofit Next 10 issued a report on Tuesday finding that while emissions will have to decline twice as steeply through 2050 as they are projected to through 2020, California can still create a million additional jobs by then. It also notes that the state’s economy is projected to have more than doubled by 2020 from 1990 levels, even as emissions are on track to reach 1990 levels.
The consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics projected earlier this month that the state’s goals will cost households $8 to $14 per month on average in 2030, in 2012 dollars.