Sacramento Bee

California needs to continue to set ambitious climate change goals. But let’s do our homework, too

By Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg

August 27, 2019

These days, all eyes are on California. Our lawmakers frequently make bold changes to address the most pressing issues of our time. In a state that’s home to the innovators of Silicon Valley and the farmers of the Central Valley, we are often on the forefront when it comes to the boundaries we’re willing to push and the policy risks we’re willing to take.

This attention on us means we have to get it right.

Nowhere is our leadership more evident than with what we’ve done on climate change. California has set an ambitious goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. In 2015, we required that 50 percent of all electricity would need to come from renewable sources by 2030. Just three years later, we upped that deadline to 2025, while also adding a 60 percent deadline of 2030 and a 100 percent zero-carbon electricity deadline of 2045. We’re doubling the energy efficiency of existing buildings and allowing greater investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

These rules are necessary to combat the urgent threat of climate change. But they are also some of the most aggressive in the country, and will require a serious disruption of the status quo.

Naming a goal is the easy part. Now that we’ve set the course for our clean-energy future, the real challenge comes in figuring out the details of how we achieve those goals – while making sure there is no collateral damage in the process.

As we discuss the shifts we need to make and the practices we should abandon when it comes to achieving our clean energy goals, the subject of oil drilling and fracking seem to top the list. The state Legislature has put stringent requirements in place for drilling and fracking, but we have stopped short of an outright ban. I would argue that we need to give it a very thorough look, scrub the details and come up with a comprehensive plan before considering a ban on either practice.

I am a proud environmentalist. I stood in strong support of all the goals and requirements that I mentioned before. What’s more, I have spent most of my time outside of government working on a broad array of clean tech and clean energy products around the world. I believe we need to do whatever we can to shift away from the usual way of doing things to achieve our climate goals.

And environmentalists, rightfully, have concerns with these practices. Turning away from drilling and fracking would help us transition to cleaner energy sources and get us closer to meeting our aggressive renewable energy goals. Those clean energy practices could be developed locally – we’ve already seen an increase in clean energy jobs across the state – with tremendous economic and job benefits to Californians.

There is great potential there – but it is all lost if the transition is hasty.

Without job training and a community impact program, a change like this would have a devastating impact on some of our communities, particularly in the Central Valley.

Just like so many disruptive changes in our new economy, we can’t do something just because it’s politically expedient – we have to do the homework and plan for the unexpected, and make sure the alternative we present is actually better for Californians. People are reasonably anxious about how the rate of change will affect their lives.

My experience over the years shows that if you enact sweeping legislation without bringing people along and getting their take on how to move forward, it not only hurts them, but it leads to blowback against truly important policies.

No matter what, we need to reach our climate change goals in a way that serves our economy. But before running with an approach that will have dire implications for Californians, let’s do our homework first.

Note: This piece was published in the Sacramento Bee on August 27, 2019.