“I will love the light, for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino
By Sandra Fluke
We are living in a dark time for our country. Headlines read like a laundry list of injustices. Families are torn apart at our borders, freedom of the press is under constant siege, and sexual predators are elevated to power. Yet, in the darkness wrought by the Trump presidency, there are beacons of light. Politically, I am inspired by the hours of dedication put in by volunteers across the country, especially those who have never been active before. And on the policy front, California refuses to be deterred or derailed, providing a shining beacon of what progressive policies could be adopted to better our entire country.
“…the symbolism of reaching 100 percent renewables is undoubtedly inspiring, but what truly is extraordinary is that we have demonstrated to the world that such a large economy can relatively quickly transition to clean energy.” Sandra Fluke
The strength of California’s leadership is arguably nowhere more apparent than in our approach to the realities of climate change. The UN’s new climate report tells us that without drastic action, the planet will likely warm to around 1.5°C in just 12 years, triggering a sequence of increasingly catastrophic events. California continues to charge ahead with new initiatives to confront this global crisis head on. Indeed, the 2017-2018 legislative session boasted far more victories in this area than defeats.
As the California State and Western Region Director for Voices for Progress (V4P), I was proud to stand with environmental champions like Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi and Senator Hannah Beth Jackson to ensure the passage of AB 1775 and SB 834. These landmark pieces of legislation effectively make cost prohibitive the Trump Administration’s efforts to massively expand federal offshore drilling along California’s precious coastline. Coastal communities remember all too well the dangers of exploiting California’s natural resources in the name of profit. From the 1969 Santa Barbara spill to the 2015 spill in Refugio, California knows firsthand the devastation these disasters bring to not only our environment and marine life, but also to our economy.
Together, the bills effectively prohibit the State Lands Commission from approving new leases for pipelines, piers, wharves, or any other infrastructure needed to support oil and gas development in federal waters off our coasts. In addition, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on any expansions to existing pipelines for that purpose. Any modifications to pipelines or piers that result in new oil production in federal waters would also require a six-month public notice period for review and comment before going to the State Lands Commission for a vote. Given Californians’ strong love for their coast and that 2 of the 3 members of the State Lands Commission are elected officials accountable to the public, we are optimistic this process will help prevent expansions of oil drilling in federal waters off California. If we are to transition our state to clean energy, we must stop expanding old, polluting energy sources like oil.
Another piece of groundbreaking climate legislation was achieved in the face of overwhelming odds. In spite of staunch opposition, a fearless coalition of climate warriors, including CA V4P members, and lead by Senator Kevin de León fought and won the battle to make the world’s fifth largest economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. This makes California and Hawaii the only two states to make such a commitment. With the stroke of Governor Jerry Brown’s pen, SB 100 set a new standard for not just other states, but the entire world to follow.
SB 100 actually sets three targets for California’s existing renewable portfolio standard. Namely, achieving 50 percent renewables by 2026, 60 percent by 2030, and finally, 100 percent by 2045. This is a journey that began in 2002 with the establishment of California’s renewable portfolio standard, which required 20 percent renewable energy by 2017. As utilities were easily able to not just meet this standard, but exceed it, the bar was gradually raised. The most recent example occurred in 2015 when the legislature passed SB 350, which set a new target of 50 percent by 2030. Most utilities have met their 2020 targets and a fair number are already closing in on the 2030 target. Far from being radical or half-baked, SB 100 was in fact the culmination of California’s long history as a leader in environmental stewardship.
This is to say, the symbolism of reaching 100 percent renewables is undoubtedly inspiring, but what truly is extraordinary is that we have demonstrated to the world that such a large economy can relatively quickly transition to clean energy. This change has only made our economy and our people healthier and stronger than ever before. We are carrying a torch, lighting the way for other states and countries who desire to follow our lead. And many are chomping at the bit to do just that. At climate summits around the world, scientists and policy experts are fixated on California.
However, this fight is not won in the bright spots on the world stage. There are many battles in California being fought locally, by representatives whose constituents’ concerns involve day-to-day survival. The threat of sea-level rise is understandably a distant worry to inland communities walled off by polluted ports, congested freeways and bustling rail yards. The plight of the polar bear feels of less consequence than one’s access to clean drinking water.
Enter Senator Connie Leyva, who this year authored SB 1072, a bill that empowers underserved communities by increasing their access to funding for climate change mitigation programs. The newly enacted legislation will also allow local municipalities, nonprofits, and small businesses to foster healthier, more sustainable neighborhoods through the Regional Climate Collaborative Program. This innovative approach finally enables communities that are suffering most from the impacts of poverty and pollution now, and who will have the least resources to mitigate the impacts of climate change, to address their regional issues head on.
However, even as California’s beacon shines bright, it likewise casts shadows, which serve to remind us that our work is far from over and success is never guaranteed. Case-in-point: despite receiving bipartisan support, AB 2447 by Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, was unfortunately vetoed by the Governor. The bill would have recognized the fundamental right for communities to be notified, in their own language, when developers plan to build or expand polluting facilities in their neighborhoods.
There are many more challenges on the horizon and the only way forward is to press on into the light. An ideal focal point is the transportation sector, which constitutes roughly 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it by far the state’s most troubling source of carbon pollution. Senator Kevin de Leon attempted to tackle this issue a few years ago with SB 350, which CA V4P supported, by requiring a 50 percent decrease in vehicle petroleum use, but the oil industry defeated that portion of the bill. This may prove to be our greatest climate challenge to date, but California must continue to reach for the stars if we are to continue to provide a light through the darkness.
ON THE WEB: