State is ahead of cli­mate change goals; next step is up to driv­ers

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY DAN SCHNUR Spe­cial to The Sacra­mento Bee

Note to read­ers: Each week through Novem­ber 2019, a se­lec­tion of our 101 Cal­i­for­nia In­flu­encers an­swers a ques­tion that is crit­i­cal to Cal­i­for­nia’s fu­ture. Top­ics in­clude ed­u­ca­tion, health­care, en­vi­ron­ment, hous­ing and eco­nomic growth.

Stay in the know: Go to www.fres­nobee.com/ in­flu­encers to sign up for the Cal­i­for­nia In­flu­encers news­let­ter – and tell us what you think.

Sav­ing the planet is about to get much harder.

A few years ago, Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers de­vel­oped an ag­gres­sive plan to re­duce the state’s green­house gas emis­sions. So far, we’re ahead of sched­ule, mainly be­cause renewable energy sources like so­lar, wind and hy­dropower have al­lowed the state’s elec­tric­ity grid to move away from tra­di­tional fos­sil fu­els.

Cal­i­for­nia’s of­ten-ma­ligned util­ity com­pa­nies de­serve credit for driv­ing much of that shift, along with changes in con­struc­tion codes to in­cen­tivize more energy ef­fi­cient build­ings.

But now it’s our turn. The next, big­ger step in the tran­si­tion to clean energy falls to us, more specif­i­cally to Cal­i­for­nia’s driv­ers.

“Cal­i­for­nia is a global cli­mate leader... But there’s one area where we need to con­tinue to make improvemen­ts, and that’s our ve­hi­cle emis­sions,” said Kate Gor­don, di­rec­tor of Gov. Gavin New­som’s Of­fice of Plan­ning and Re­search, who pointed to in­creased use of elec­tric ve­hi­cles and af­ford­able hous­ing as key com­po­nents of a so­lu­tion. “To­day, trans­porta­tion ac­counts for 51 per­cent of all Cal­i­for­nia’s emis­sions – and the num­ber keeps ris­ing.”

State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Mon­ica) re­in­forced the im­por­tance of ap­proach­ing the chal­lenge on mul­ti­ple fronts.

“While we move to­ward less pol­lut­ing cars, we must also make dif­fer­ent land use de­ci­sions that en­able peo­ple to leave their cars in the drive­way,” said Allen, who is chair of the Se­nate Environmen­tal Qual­ity Com­mit­tee. “We need to build homes nearer to jobs and in­vest in tran­sit. We need to bet­ter align all of our state goals – cli­mate, hous­ing, and trans­porta­tion – to be sure our lim­ited state re­sources achieve the big­gest bang for the buck.”

But other In­flu­encers warned that the tran­si­tion would be more dif­fi­cult for some Cal­i­for­ni­ans than others.

“The im­pact upon driv­ers is al­ready upon them in higher in higher prices at the pump due to fu­els be­ing sub­ject to cap and trade,” said long­time Repub­li­can con­sul­tant Rob Stutz­man, a se­nior ad­viser to for­mer Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger. “As with all of Cal­i­for­nia’s as­pi­ra­tional cli­mate goals, the path to fewer auto emis­sions will be in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive and eco­nom­i­cally re­gres­sive.”

Stanis­laus County Su­per­vi­sor Kristin Olsen pointed to geo­graphic chal­lenges as well.

“Cal­i­for­nia’s ag­gres­sive cli­mate change goals will con­tinue to in­crease costs for Cal­i­for­nia driv­ers – through higher gas prices, es­pe­cially – but they are also ex­pe­dit­ing tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion in a way that many driv­ers look for­ward to,” said Olsen, who is the state’s for­mer Repub­li­can As­sem­bly leader. “The ques­tion is how to re­duce the cost im­pact of our state’s cli­mate goals, par­tic­u­larly on peo­ple in in­land Cal­i­for­nia who are much more re­liant on driv­ing than peo­ple in ur­ban and coast

al com­mu­ni­ties.”

Assem­bly­man James Gal­lagher (R-Yuba City) was more blunt.

“Cal­i­for­nia driv­ers will pay more at the pump, have to travel greater dis­tances to work, and spend more time stuck in traf­fic,” Gal­lagher said. “Hope you can af­ford a Tesla!”

Other In­flu­encers ar­gued that the mar­ket for elec­tric ve­hi­cles could be dra­mat­i­cally ex­panded while still ac­com­mo­dat­ing fi­nan­cial and lo­gis­ti­cal con­cerns.

“We need to build a net­work of charg­ing sta­tions through­out the re­gion and en­sure that charg­ers are pow­ered around the clock by the most af­ford­able renewable energy money can buy,” said Danielle Os­born Mills, Cal­i­for­nia di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Wind Energy As­so­ci­a­tion. “Util­i­ties will need to in­vest in whole­sale wind and so­lar energy from the windi­est and sun­ni­est ar­eas of the West, and mod­ern­ize our trans­mis­sion sys­tem to bring those re­new­ables to Cal­i­for­nia cus­tomers and driv­ers at low­est cost.”

Re­sources Legacy Fund Pres­i­dent Michael Man­tell em­pha­sized the ben­e­fits of mov­ing the state’s trans­porta­tion sec­tor to al­ter­na­tive energy sources.

“Cal­i­for­nia driv­ers… will be able to choose cleaner trans­porta­tion sys­tems, in­clud­ing ex­panded and more con­ve­nient public tran­sit; op­por­tu­ni­ties to live in com­mu­ni­ties where they can walk or bike to work, school, and daily er­rands in­stead of driv­ing; and the chance to save thou­sands of dol­lars each year by not spend­ing as much on cars and gaso­line, energy for their homes, or wa­ter,” Man­tell said.

While Cather­ine Re­heis-Boyd, pres­i­dent of the West­ern States Petroleum As­so­ci­a­tion agreed with those goals, she also cau­tioned that the changeover should not hap­pen in an overly dis­rup­tive man­ner and called for a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to ease the tran­si­tion.

“We rec­og­nize and em­brace the im­por­tance and prom­ise of renewable energy sources. But… if we pre­ma­turely make it even harder to pro­duce oil in the state, we will do more harm than good,” Re­heisBoyd said. “The ques­tion we should be ask­ing our­selves is how do we come to­gether as one Cal­i­for­nia to drive the most im­me­di­ate improvemen­ts in car­bon emis­sion re­duc­tions, eco­nomic se­cu­rity and re­li­able ac­cess to energy for all?”

McClatchy file photo

“Cal­i­for­nia is a global cli­mate leader... But there’s one area where we need to con­tinue to make improvemen­ts, and that’s our ve­hi­cle emis­sions,” says Kate Gor­don.

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