VENTURA COUNTY STAR: Senators place big bet on green

By Timm Herdt

June 10, 2015

They don’t much like to admit it, but there are very few times when California senators take on a truly big idea, one with the power to transform California, shape the economy for decades to come, and potentially steer a course for the world.

Last week was one of those times.

Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s lead, the Senate adopted energy and climate-change policies that combined take a huge risk that the economy of California can be weaned from fossil fuels.

If those policies work, they could open unimagined possibilities for innovation and economic opportunity. They could improve public health by reducing air pollution, create a large measure of in-state energy independence, and set an example to help lead the world in confronting the global challenge of climate change.

If the bet fails, costs for gasoline and electrical power, already higher in California than anywhere else in America, could climb still higher and choke economic growth.

With the stakes so high, one might imagine that the debate would rise above the level of mundane political discourse. It did.

“Markets change. We transform,” said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys.

“By domesticating energy, we produce high-wage jobs for California. Is it difficult? Are there going to be transitions from the old model to the new? Oh, yes. Tell that to people at the Pony Express or the telegraph. Welcome to America, baby.”

Hertzberg was speaking of the goals spelled out in SB 350, which embody those Brown laid out at the beginning of this year: reduce by half the use of petroleum fuels in motor vehicles, require electricity providers to purchase half their power from renewable sources, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings. All within 15 years.

That measure works in concert with another measure, SB 32, which sets a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. To put that in perspective, California’s existing climate-change law requires a reduction of 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020.

Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, the author of SB 32, was a member of the Assembly in 2002 when she became a driving force in getting California started down the path of confronting climate change. She proposed a bill to force dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from automobile tailpipes.

The state Chamber of Commerce labeled that bill a job-killer. The auto industry fought it tooth-and-nail.

But other states followed California’s lead, and ultimately the industry went to Washington, D.C., and embraced federal fuel-efficiency standards that matched the California goals.

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