Trump’s out, but we’re still in

Lo­cal and state govern­ments can stick with the Paris ac­cord and con­tinue to fight global warm­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

The gap be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump’s cli­mate change pol­icy and the science-based needs of the world grows wider by the day. But if there’s a sil­ver lin­ing to the pres­i­dent’s rash and dan­ger­ous de­ci­sion to with­draw the U.S. from the Paris cli­mate agree­ment, it’s that it has rein­vig­o­rated the en­vi­ron­men­tal am­bi­tions of a wide range of lo­cal, state and for­eign govern­ments, as well as busi­nesses — per­suad­ing them not only to carry on with their ex­ist­ing ef­forts to re­duce car­bon emis­sions, but to cre­ate broad coali­tions to achieve even big­ger gains.

You could see the man­i­fes­ta­tion of that in the pho­tos of Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown sit­ting re­cently with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Beijing, dis­cussing ways Cal­i­for­nia can work with China, the world’s big­gest car­bon emit­ter, to re­duce green­house gases. Trump’s pol­icy be damned, the pic­ture im­plies; the Amer­i­can peo­ple will con­tinue to work with the rest of the world.

State and lo­cal govern­ments — with the as­sis­tance of for­ward-look­ing mar­ket forces — al­ready were re­duc­ing emis­sions when Trump won the White House. Brown’s Un­der2 MOU, a 2015 agree­ment of sub­na­tional govern­ments around the world to re­duce emis­sions, now has more than 170 sig­na­to­ries rep­re­sent­ing more than 1.1 bil­lion peo­ple and 39% of the global econ­omy. Nearly 300 U.S. may­ors, led in part by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, have joined to­gether to re­duce car­bon emis­sions within their ju­ris­dic­tions. Busi­nesses have been mov­ing in a sim­i­lar di­rec­tion.

These are more than “Kum­baya” steps. Lo­cal and state govern­ments are eco­nomic en­gines that can ex­pand de­mand for re­new­able en­ergy by help­ing drive down the costs for non­govern­men­tal con­sumers. This is one way around Trump’s fos­sil fuel-burn­ing agenda. In March, Los An­ge­les joined 30 other ci­ties in ask­ing the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try about the fea­si­bil­ity of buy­ing a com­bined 114,000 elec­tric ve­hi­cles for their fleets, a po­ten­tial $10-bil­lion deal that would re­duce city fleet emis­sions and dras­ti­cally ex­pand the mar­ket for such ve­hi­cles. Last year, only 159,139 elec­tric ve­hi­cles were bought, a tiny frac­tion of the 17.55 mil­lion to­tal ve­hi­cles sold.

Cal­i­for­nia and 10 other states al­ready have a man­date in place set­ting spe­cific goals and ap­ply­ing pres­sure to auto man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­crease sales of zero-emis­sions ve­hi­cles. In an­other arena, the Los An­ge­les De­part­ment of Water and Power an­nounced last week that it is post­pon­ing a $2.2-bil­lion in­vest­ment in ren­o­vat­ing aging nat­u­ral gas­fired power plants in the face of a statewide sup­ply glut, and that it would search out re­new­able sources to help meet a state man­date that half of Cal­i­for­nia’s elec­tric­ity must come from clean en­ergy sources by 2030. At the same time, Se­nate leader Kevin de León (D-Los An­ge­les) is seek­ing to push that man­date to 100% re­new­ables by 2045.

Of course, set­ting goals is one thing and meet­ing them is an­other. But even of­fi­cials with firms such as Sem­pra, which is heav­ily in­volved in nat­u­ral-gas power gen­er­a­tion, and the Cal­i­for­nia In­de­pen­dent Sys­tem Op­er­a­tor, which over­sees about 80% of the state power sys­tem, see the 100% re­new­ables goal as at­tain­able.

It’s not just Cal­i­for­nia mak­ing these in­roads. Wash­ing­ton re­cently an­nounced a plan to make at least 20% of its state fleet of mo­tor ve­hi­cles elec­tric-pow­ered. Hous­ton, of all places, is the na­tion’s largest mu­nic­i­pal user of re­new­able en­ergy, with wind and so­lar pro­vid­ing 89% of its power. Minneapolis works with two in­vestor-owned util­i­ties to an­a­lyze us­age data and tar­get en­ergy-sav­ing pro­grams to non-com­ply­ing build­ings. Across the Pa­cific, smog-choked Beijing is look­ing to re­place nearly 70,000 taxis with elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Busi­nesses have taken steps too, rec­og­niz­ing that there is money to be made and saved through re­duced car­bon emis­sions. Many ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions pub­licly lob­bied Trump to re­main in the Paris agree­ment, ar­gu­ing that their in­ter­ests are “best served by a stable and prac­ti­cal frame­work fa­cil­i­tat­ing an ef­fec­tive and bal­anced global re­sponse.”

What sub­na­tional govern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions do now could have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on where the world winds up (busi­nesses could help more if they stopped do­nat­ing to the cam­paigns of cli­mate-skep­tic politi­cians). Yes, much more needs to be done and the ef­fort would be far more ef­fec­tive if it were made in tan­dem with the U.S. gov­ern­ment. But that Trump has turned his back on a hab­it­able planet doesn’t mean the rest of us should. Or can.

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