Could California's emissions-cutting law pave the way for other states?

California is trying to show that environmental protection and economic growth can go hand in hand. That's a lesson that could encourage other states.

Richard Vogel/AP
Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signs legislation while joined by Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Leon, second from left, and state Sen. Fran Pavley, in Los Angeles on Thursday. The law sets a new goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

With new legislation that demands another sharp cut in emissions, California Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to “send a message across the country.”

The bold efficiency goals could inspire other states and nations to follow suit, especially as California's clean-energy companies are already contributing to the state's strong economy, which is growing a third again as fast as the national economy.

California's previous emissions-reduction commitments called for cutting state greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The new plan, taking shape in two laws signed by Governor Brown on Thursday, mandates that California reduce its emissions by 40 percent from that 1990 benchmark by 2030.

One of the bills, SB32, lays out the emission limits, while a companion bill, AB197, gives state legislators more oversight as California engineers pursue the new goals. 

According to the state senate, the current regulations have already saved Californians money by cutting their energy bills and costs of transportation.

California has a history of taking the lead on climate issues. After then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a 2006 law sharply limiting emissions, several other states – including New Mexico, Arizona, and Vermont – quickly followed.

Brown says he hopes other states and nations will again follow in California's footsteps.

"The real source of climate action has to come from states and provinces," he told the Climate Change Summit of the Americas in 2015. "This is a call to arms. We're going to build up such a drumbeat that our national counterparts – they're going to listen."

In some respects, California's climate initiatives show it behaving like a nation itself. Brown spoke at the Paris Climate Conference in December, where his state was praised for its pioneering efforts to meet emissions targets. Its economy – which would likely be the sixth largest in the world, if California were an independent country – and its population, almost 40 million, make it a reasonable model for many nations.

Will the rest of the US echo California’s intensified commitment to emissions cuts? Climate impacts may suggest an answer. Wildfires and persistent drought have hit California hard for several years, and now other states are beginning to experience climate change-related natural disasters, such as the severe flooding in Louisiana and West Virginia. 

The climate is not the only issue at stake, however – and regulation is not always met with enthusiasm. A similar law was defeated last year in California, opposed in part by industries protesting that it was too much change, too soon. One Republican in the state legislature has dubbed it the "Energy Poverty Act of 2016," as The Wall Street Journal reports

Overall, however, California's economy may suggest that protecting the climate can be good for business, too. It not only has the largest economy in the nation but also the fastest growing, expanding by 3.3 percent last year, though the national GDP grew only about 2.4 percent, Bloomberg reported in June. Traditional-energy producers like Alaska and Montana, by contrast, saw their GDP contract last year.

California's clean energy companies invest almost twice as much of their revenue into research and development as companies in the rest of the country, Bloomberg reported — and those companies consistently outperform those outside the state. 

Research suggests that a transformation like California’s may be possible for other states, but it won't be cheap. With a $200 billion annual investment until 2035, the United States could transition to a clean energy economy, according to one report by the Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass-Amherst.  Their program involves retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency, a legally-binding carbon cap, and tax credits for clean energy production. The researchers say that the process would also add 2.7 million new jobs nationwide. 

"The single biggest lesson [from California] is that if you turn the dial up on climate change policy, you can also see tremendous economic benefits," Derek Walker, an associate vice president on global climate for the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Christian Science Monitor last December. "It's not a trade-off."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Could California's emissions-cutting law pave the way for other states?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today