Inside California’s climate change paradox
A Bay Area train derailing from tracks overheated by an early-summer heat wave, sending at least one person to the hospital. Lightning strikes killing a woman and her two dogs in Southern California and injuring a man pushing a baby stroller in Kern County. A wildfire causing PG&E power outages so persistent that Stanford University on Wednesday canceled summer classes for the rest of the week.
Increasingly extreme weather is pummeling California’s electric grid, which is already struggling to meet demand — prompting fears the state could experience rolling blackouts this summer, two years after a heat wave triggered the first outages in nearly two decades and heightened political pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom to avoid further shutoffs.
How intense is that pressure? Well, as CalMatters’ Julie Cart and Rachel Becker report in this exclusive story, Newsom is pushing legislative leaders to include a far-reaching energy package in a yet-to-be-finalized budget deal that would give a state commission he appoints unilateral control over the development of clean-energy projects, prolong use of California’s four natural-gas power plants scheduled for closure, and allocate billions of dollars to fossil fuel power sources.
- The negotiations on the provisions, which have largely been behind closed doors, suggest the state is trying to strike a balance between accelerating new solar and wind projects and ensuring the state has enough power to keep the lights on in the meantime.
- But they also illuminate a contradiction at the heart of California’s climate plan: In order to fast-track clean energy, the state is proposing to bypass environmental reviews and oversight from local officials, community groups and state agencies that have helped protect disadvantaged communities, natural spaces and endangered species, environmental advocates say.
- Brandon Dawson, director of the California Sierra Club: “We support the effort to get clean energy on the grid quickly, but this bill has weak environmental and public health protections, props up diesel and gas plants and is going to create conflicts between county and state agencies.”
The dissonance between California’s ambitious environmental goals and reality was also on display Thursday, when the state’s powerful Air Resources Board held a day-long public hearing on its sweeping new strategy for addressing climate change. (Proceedings were temporarily brought to a halt when activists entered the packed hearing room, decrying the state’s blueprint and demanding environmental justice.)
The highly controversial plan would increase electricity consumption by as much as 68% by 2045 — which state officials said would put an immense strain on the power grid absent hefty public and private investments in clean energy, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports.
- If those investments don’t materialize, California will have to keep relying on fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, air board officials said.
- The Newsom administration also made clear its desire, reflected in the private budget negotiations, to accelerate clean-energy projects. “We have to be able to get projects on the ground quicker,” said Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld. “Offshore wind will take 15 years to permit and deploy. We don’t have 15 years. So part of our effort needs to be, not only to understand the power of our ambition, but how the hell do we get this done? We need reforms in those areas.”
- At the same time, “We need to focus on what it takes to meet the needs of an evolving grid, especially during the hours when the system must ramp up to replace our massive solar fleet as the sun sets,” said Alice Reynolds, president of the California Public Utilities Commission.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,264,968 confirmed cases (+0.7% from previous day) and 91,314 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 Supreme Court gun ruling prompts quick response in California
A “shameful” and “dark day in America.” “A sad day for our nation and a setback for public safety.” Those tweets — from Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, respectively — came in response to a Thursday U.S. Supreme Court decision tossing out New York state’s tight restrictions on who can carry a concealed gun in public. The ruling doesn’t strike down a similar California law requiring residents to show a compelling need in order to carry a concealed firearm, but it does make legal challenges against that system much more likely to succeed, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. And it could have sweeping implications for the rest of California’s strictest-in-the-nation gun laws, some of which are already being contested in court.
Nevertheless, in what has become a familiar refrain in a state increasingly at odds with policies upheld by the nation’s highest court and Republican-led states, California’s Democratic lawmakers are already hashing out a legislative response. Although details are still being worked out, Democratic state Sen. Anthony Portantino of Glendale — into whose existing bill the new legislation will be inserted — told Ben the court’s opinion leaves the door open for states to respond in two possible ways, and the proposal will “attack it from both of those angles.” For more, check out Ben’s story.
- Meanwhile, state lawmakers are fast-tracking a stack of gun control legislation. “Next week, I will have 16 new gun safety bills on my desk, including a bill that will allow individuals to sue gun makers and distributors for violating certain gun laws,” Newsom said in a statement. “I look forward to signing all of those bills. California has proven that commonsense gun laws save lives, and we will continue to stand up to those in political power who enable and coddle the gun industry.”
2 One constitutional amendment advances, another stalls
Just before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling today overturning the federal constitutional right to an abortion, state lawmakers on Thursday sent to Newsom’s desk a bill to shield from civil liability anyone who receives, provides or aids abortion care in California. The bill — which will go into effect immediately once Newsom signs it — is part of a package of legislation that advocates say will help California serve as an abortion “sanctuary” for out-of-state patients.
Also Thursday, a proposed amendment to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in California’s constitution cleared a key Assembly committee, bringing it one step closer to landing on voters’ ballots in November.
But another proposed amendment to ban involuntary servitude — which the California constitution currently prohibits “except to punish crime” — didn’t fare so well. The 20-6 vote in the Senate fell well short of the two-thirds approval threshold needed to advance it to the Assembly, where a supermajority of lawmakers would also have to greenlight it by June 30 for it to land on the November ballot.
- Both Republicans and Democrats voiced numerous concerns about the amendment, which Newsom’s finance department has warned could cost the state at least $1.5 billion annually by requiring the prison system to pay inmate workers minimum wage.
- State Sen. Dave Min, a Costa Mesa Democrat: “Somebody who is in state prison is already in involuntary imprisonment, because they’ve committed a crime, a breach of the social contract. I don’t understand what it means when we’re talking about ending involuntary servitude.”
- State Sen. Richard Roth, a Riverside Democrat: “To have individuals who are not actively engaged in productive work — idle hands, you know what they say. … For me cost is not the issue, individuals who work should be paid. And if our pay rates are too low in the (prison) system, they should be increased. … I’m concerned about the interpretation. … And if the interpretation … is you cannot force anyone to work against their will, period, stop in the sentence, then I think potentially we have a serious issue … at facilites up and down the state of California.”
- State Sen. Sydney Kamlager, the Los Angeles Democrat carrying the amendment, said it would not eradicate the state’s prison labor system. She added, “I am so grateful that so many (microphones) went up, wanting clarification on what involuntary servitude means. I ask that you continue to not disassociate it from slavery. … I suspect that this conversation that we had on this floor was very similar to the discussions had in 1800 about freeing the slaves. … I’ve mentioned that California was a plantation state because a plantation is a colony where crops are cultivated using resident labor. … California is able to run because we operate this plantation and no one, not even I, is strong enough on my own to defeat that.”
Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story
State Senate, District 37 (Irvine)
State Senate, District 37 (Irvine)
Time in office
Irvine Law Professor
Sen. Dave Min has taken at least $1.6 million from the Party sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 34% of his total campaign contributions.
State Senate, District 31 (Riverside)
State Senate, District 31 (Riverside)
Time in office
Attorney / Small Businessperson
Sen. Richard Roth has taken at least $2.6 million from the Party sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 40% of his total campaign contributions.
Former State Senate, District 30 (Norwalk)
3 Some primary races still too close to call
Yes, California’s primary election was more than two weeks ago, and no, the results still haven’t been finalized — as of Thursday, an estimated 376,500 ballots had yet to be tallied, and in some statewide races it isn’t yet clear which two candidates will advance to the November general election.
- But Republican attorney general candidate Nathan Hochman had evidently seen enough by Thursday morning, when he declared that he would face off against Democratic incumbent Rob Bonta in November. The Associated Press confirmed that call Thursday night. Hochman, who had 18% of the vote, was closely trailed by GOP candidate Eric Early at 16.4% — but, according to the Associated Press, Early “had no chance of catching up because there weren’t enough uncounted ballots to tip the balance.”
- The margins are even slimmer in the insurance commissioner’s race: Democratic Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael had 18.1% of the vote on Thursday, barely ahead of Republicans Robert Howell at 17.9% and Greg Conlon at 15.9%. The three men are competing for the chance to square off against Democratic incumbent Ricardo Lara in November. “Taking on an incumbent in a statewide race is a tall order,” Levine wrote in a Wednesday email to supporters.
- Also TBD: who will challenge incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. But education policy executive Lance Christensen, at nearly 12%, is starting to separate from teacher Ainye E. Long and software architect George Yang.
- CalMatters is continuing to update our live primary results tracker as ballots are counted in statewide, legislative and congressional races, so bookmark our page and don’t be a stranger!
Meanwhile, as dust settles from the election, some are expressing dissatisfaction with California’s multiparty top-two primary system, 10 years after it was adopted. GOP Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin this week introduced a constitutional amendment to end the system, which he accused of “making a farce of our democracy with gamesmanship, fluke outcomes and the disenfranchisement of independent voters.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California is experiencing its latest episode of “Gas Price Derangement Syndrome.”
Want to solve homelessness? Invest in housing: This budget season, Newsom and the Legislature must allocate steady — not temporary — funding for rental assistance and the creation of permanent supportive housing, argues Mike Herald of the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
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