California Governor Orders New Target for Emissions Cuts

Source: By ADAM NAGOURNEY, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, April 30, 2015

Traffic along Interstate 110 past downtown Los Angeles. An energy study projects a need for a sharp increase in the number of hybrid and zero-emission cars.CreditKendrick brinson for The New York Times 

The order, announced early Wednesday morning, was intended as a jolt to a landmark 2006 environmental law requiring an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas reductions by 2050, compared with 1990. Under Mr. Brown’s order, the state would have to get halfway there — a 40 percent reduction — by 2030.

Mr. Brown said this tough new interim target was essential to prod the energy industry to act and to help the state make investment and regulatory decisions that would assure that goal was not missed.

The order is the latest effort by Mr. Brown to position California as a leading force in the world’s effort to address climate change — and position himself as a leader of that effort as he enters his final years in public office. It also is an aggressive turn in what already was one of the toughest programs in the nation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Gov. Jerry Brown at an environmental conference Wednesday. CreditRingo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press 

Mr. Brown faulted Republicans in Congress for “pooh-poohing” the threat of global warming. He said that he wanted California to set an example for the rest of the country and the world on the urgency of responding to what he described as a slow-moving crisis.

“It’s a real test,” Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said in a speech at an environmental conference in downtown Los Angeles. “Not just for California, not just for America, but for the world. Can we rise above the parochialisms, the ethnocentric perspectives, the immediacy of I-want-I-need, to a vision, a way of life, that is sustainable?”

Under the law put into place by Mr. Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state was required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 on the way to reach the 2050 target; California is already well on its way to meeting the 2020 goal, and may exceed it, officials said Thursday.

“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached — for this generation and generations to come,” Mr. Brown said. These efforts come as this state has been struggling with a drought that Mr. Brown has said is, at least in part, exacerbated by global warming.

The governor’s speech, coming at a time when he has been trying to rally the state behind tough water conservation measures, was a reminder of the often conflicting demands of these twin challenges. Some of the central efforts proposed to alleviate the drought — including the building of desalination plants to make ocean water potable — are highly energy intensive.

The governor’s order did not give details of how the state would reach the new goals, though Mr. Brown in his speech here noted the success of the auto and energy industry so far in meeting the emission targets that the state has set over the years.

“We’re sending the signals to the private economy to create, to innovate, and to make the kind of response that will enable Californians to live in compatibility with the environment,” he said. “We can do it.”

Still, by any measure this will not be easy. A study by a consulting firm, Energy and Environmental Economics, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said that to cut emissions 26 percent to 38 percent by 2030, California would have to double the amount of energy efficiency in buildings and industry; ensure that 50 percent to 60 percent of electricity was from renewal sources, such as wind; and oversee a sharp increase in the number of hybrid and zero-emission cars.

The study projected that these policies would result in a net cost of $14 a month per household. The projection takes into account sharp increases in the cost of fuels and investment in energy-saving technology, balanced off, for example, by the projected decline in demand for gasoline caused by an increased reliance on hybrid vehicles.

Republican lawmakers quickly denounced the order as a threat to the state’s economy at a time when California has been climbing out of a steep slump.

“These higher costs will hurt the low income and working poor the hardest and will create an even greater divide between the haves and have-nots,” said Bob Huff, the Senate Republican leader. “At what point does being on the leading edge of climate change and environmental reform impact our ability to create or sustain jobs?”

But Democratic lawmakers, who have been pushing through legislation intended to help achieve long-term cuts in emissions, applauded the governor’s action. Kevin de Leon, the Democratic leader of the State Senate, said Mr. Brown’s order exemplified “California’s global leadership on climate change.”

“We see the framework of a new economy for tomorrow,” Mr. de Leon said in an interview. “And that’s why it’s critical that we move forward with these far-reaching and progressive policies. That is why the world is watching what we are doing here in California.”

California’s target reflects those set by other governments — including the European Union — ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris this year. Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the conference, issued a statement praising Mr. Brown’s order.

“California’s announcement is a realization and a determination that will gladly resonate with other inspiring actions within the United States and around the globe,” she said. “It is yet another reason for optimism in advance of the U.N. climate conference in Paris in December.”