On climate, Biden urged to follow the ‘California agenda’

Source: By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 16, 2020

California sees itself as a national leader in the fight against climate change, especially during the Trump administration. Now, postelection, green advocates see the state as a guidebook President-elect Joe Biden can follow.

The Golden State seeks to shrink climate pollution through a slew of laws, such as mandating 100% clean electricity by 2045. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) following extreme fires this summer called for faster action. In an executive order, he banned sales of new gas-fueled passenger cars after 2035, a first-in-the-nation move (E&E News PM, Sept. 23).

Biden also wants a future of only clean cars, though he hasn’t put a deadline on it. Biden’s climate plan said he wants to achieve a “Carbon Pollution-Free Power Sector by 2035,” among many other green goals.

Newsom last week noted similarities between California’s actions and the president-elect’s priorities, including “environmental stewardship and low-carbon green growth.”

“That’s a California agenda,” Newsom said during a briefing with reporters. “We say all the time, the future happens here first. We’ve established a lot of the efforts.”

California, the nation’s most populous state, jumped ahead of other states and the federal government on air pollution issues and then climate change.

In 1967, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan (R) launched the California Air Resources Board to clean up air considered among the nation’s dirtiest. It led to the state gaining special status to set air quality rules stricter than the federal ones. The air board later set the nation’s first standards restricting vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

“We were dealing with auto emissions before there was an EPA, before there was a Clean Air Act,” said Darry Sragow, a veteran political strategist and publisher of the “California Target Book,” a nonpartisan political guide. “We’ve always had the ability to be tougher on emissions. Eventually, the nation conformed to the California standard.”

The Trump presidency upended California’s plans. His administration revoked the state’s ability to set its own emissions and mileage rules, part of the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule. That regulation also rolled back Obama-era clean car standards.

It’s one area where many believe the Biden administration will work with California to reverse that rollback. The Obama administration and California had agreed on one nationwide standard.

“Biden could end the Trump rollback effort and once again have national standards match California,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air. While a future president could seek to change the standard later on, “it’s better than not doing anything,” he said, if Republicans control the Senate and block legislation on it.

Transportation emissions make up 40% of California’s greenhouse gas pollution. Newsom hopes to cut that with his executive order phasing out internal-combustion engines in passenger vehicles. California’s Air Resources Board last month held its first workshop on the executive order.

Developing and passing a regulation likely will take two years. That will show a path the Biden administration could follow, analysts said.

Biden’s climate plan calls for “developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be zero emissions.” While Biden hasn’t set a date for it, it still shows movement, Sragow said.

“If you agree that part of the job of improving our air quality is to make sure that ultimately motor vehicles are powered by something other than fossil fuels, that 2035 deadline is something that can be played with,” he said. “Once you set that as a policy, that’s a great leap forward.”

Using executive orders, regulations

The Biden transition effort is looking at executive orders and other moves he can make without Congress, if Republicans control the Senate.

Some of California’s major actions similarly came without its state Legislature.

The California Air Resources Board in June adopted the world’s first regulation aimed at ramping up zero-emission truck sales. The Advanced Clean Trucks regulation requires truck manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of zero-emission trucks in the state starting in 2024 (Climatewire, June 26).

The requirements get tougher each year, with the goal of putting 300,000 electric trucks on California’s roads by 2035 and phasing out internal-combustion trucks by 2045 (Climatewire, April 30).

Last year, California mandated a switch to nonpolluting shuttles and buses for short trips at its 13 largest airports. The California Air Resources Board required the switch by 2035 (Climatewire, June 28). CARB also has said all public transit agencies must transition to a 100% zero-emission bus fleet by 2040.

And late last year, the state’s Department of General Services banned state agencies from purchasing any sedans “solely powered by an internal combustion engine, with exemptions for certain public safety vehicles.”

Additionally, it said that effective this year, agencies could only buy vehicles from automakers that have agreed to a deal with CARB to uphold stricter emissions and mileage standards than the Trump administration ones. Right now, those companies include Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, BMW of North America LLC and Volvo.

The Biden administration could make a similar move at the federal level, said Matt Petersen, chair of the Transportation Electrification Partnership in Los Angeles and CEO of the L.A. Cleantech Incubator.

Biden when president “can sign an executive order instructing his agencies to only purchase electric vehicles,” Petersen said.

Solar mandate on buildings

Biden’s climate plan aims to shrink the carbon footprint of the U.S. building stock 50% by 2035, “creating incentives for deep retrofits that combine appliance electrification, efficiency, and on-site clean power generation.”

California also leads on clean buildings, several said. The California Energy Commission updated state building codes to require that starting this year, most new homes have solar on their roofs. The law requires solar on new single-family homes and multifamily buildings up to 3 stories high. Alternatively, utilities and organizations can apply to the Energy Commission to build an off-site “community shared solar” site.

There’s talk of including in the next building code update in 2022 a ban on using natural gas in new homes. Some environmental advocates want it to go further, requiring homes to either have electric vehicle charging stations built in or be ready to connect a charger.

Biden could set the same type of requirements for buildings on federal land or any office building or school that gets federal dollars, said Dan Jacobson, state director of Environment California.

Land use is another area of potential shared interest. California’s governor in October issued an executive order saying that one-third of California land and coastal waters must be preserved by 2030, to help prevent emissions that are causing climate change.

That could serve as a template for the Biden administration, said Kim Delfino, California director of Defenders of Wildlife. To stem the tide of species extinction, “we need to protect half the Earth by 2050,” she said. To reach that point by midcentury, about a third of land should be preserved within a decade, Delfino said.

“California was the first state to declare that goal,” Delfino said. “The hope would be, following what California did, the Biden administration could announce that as a national goal.”