California enacts monumental climate change goals

Gov. Jerry Brown has set an ambitious goal of producing half of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Damian Dovarganes/AP
California Gov. Jerry Brown, sitting center, surrounded by government officials, signs landmark legislation, bill SB350 by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De Leon (third from left) to combat climate change by increasing the state's renewable electricity use to 50 percent and doubling energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030 at a ceremony at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

California already has some of the toughest air quality standards in the world, but Gov. Jerry Brown still isn’t satisfied. On Wednesday, Mr. Brown committed the state to ambitious climate change goals, including doubling the energy-efficiency of existing buildings and relying on renewable energy for 50 percent of electricity use by 2030.

Brown also tried to lobby for a measure to reduce petroleum use by half within the next 15 years; a measure that ultimately failed due to intense opposition from the oil industry and failed bargaining.

These goals extend the Global Warming Solutions Act signed in 2006 by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger which mandated 33 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s energy bill also outlined the first cap and trade emissions program in the United States, second only in size to the European Union's.

"For an economy the size of California to commit to getting half of its power needs from renewable energy resources, I think, it’s a game-changer," Alex Jackson, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Associated Press.

Brown, however, did not outline how California will meet the new goal, and has instead left the detail planning to the state's Air Resources Board, Energy Commission, and Public Utilities Commission.

Some critics are concerned the measures will add unforeseen costs for businesses and consumers.

Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber predicts more expensive "energy, food and all things that require abundant affordable energy to produce and transport, particularly hurting those California families least able to afford it."

Proponents of the measures argue rebates and subsidies will help Californians continue to save money, but California’s utilities, who also favor the measure, are expected to pass some of the transition costs onto consumers.

While utilities are encouraged to expand, they will also be subject to fines or penalties if they fail to meet the goals.

Additionally, an estimated $2.2 billion will be spent this year to support the building of a planned high-speed rail system, as well as finance appliance rebate programs, building upgrades and forestry and wetland conservation. But the money will come from California businesses, not the government.

Brown maintains the urgency and importance of the energy measures, particularly in moving away from fossil fuels. "What has been the source of our prosperity now becomes the source of our ultimate destruction, if we don't get off it. And that is so difficult," he said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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