Newsom calls for more aggressive climate action
As the largest wildfire of the year rages across California, Gov. Gavin Newsom is doubling down on an aggressive strategy to combat climate change — one that also appears to involve boosting his national profile.
Newsom on Saturday proclaimed a state of emergency in Mariposa County due to the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park, which since igniting on Friday has burned through more than 15,600 acres of bone-dry fuel and was 0% contained as of Sunday night, according to Cal Fire.
California has secured federal support to help defray the costs of battling the blaze, which as of Sunday was being attacked by nearly 2,100 firefighters. More than 6,000 people were under evacuation orders, nearly 3,000 PG&E customers were facing power outages and 15 structures had been destroyed or damaged with thousands more threatened.
- The Oak Fire marks the end of California’s relatively calm start to the fire season: Fewer than 34,000 acres burned statewide from Jan. 1 to July 19, the lowest total during that time period since 2009, according to a Mercury News analysis.
- Isaac Sanchez, a Cal Fire battalion chief: “People shouldn’t get complacent. If this was a baseball game, we are in the middle innings. There are still a lot of dry months to come.”
Newsom alluded to complacency at the national level in a Saturday letter to President Joe Biden, in which he slammed “uncooperative Republicans and a lone Democrat from a coal-producing state” (West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin) for holding “hostage” parts of Biden’s climate agenda.
- Newsom added: “We want to reiterate our commitment to … finding new ways to work around those Senators who chose to keep their head in the sand instead of confronting the crisis we are all facing together. Partnering with California and other leading states and cities is now essential.”
As a proof point of what Newsom described as California’s world-leading action on climate, he cited a blueprint — released just the day before — to make the state’s ambitious climate plans even more aggressive.
In a Friday letter to Liane Randolph, who leads the powerful California Air Resources Board, Newsom outlined goals he said would add teeth to the state’s sweeping climate strategy, which regulators are set to consider formally adopting this fall. In so doing, he appeared to agree with activists who said the plan doesn’t go far or quickly enough in transitioning California away from fossil fuels. However, some of the strategies Newsom proposed, such as carbon capture, are unlikely to be embraced by many environmentalists.
- In the letter, Newsom directs state agencies to develop energy transition plans that don’t involve new natural gas plants, adopt a goal for the aviation industry to use more clean fuel, and plans to accelerate the development of offshore wind, among other things.
- The push comes soon after Newsom signed into law a controversial bill that clears the way for the state to use more fossil fuels in the short term while accelerating the long-term development of clean energy projects. To help the state maintain reliable energy, California is also considering extending the life of its last nuclear power plant.
Meanwhile: On Sunday, Newsom and the California Teachers Association broke with the California Democratic Party in announcing their opposition to Proposition 30, a November ballot initiative funded largely by Lyft that would tax people earning more than $2 million to fund a collection of climate programs, including incentives for people to buy zero-emission vehicles. (Incidentally, state law requires Lyft and Uber drivers to log 90% of California miles in electric vehicles by 2030.)
- Newsom: “Prop. 30 is a special interest carve-out — a cynical scheme devised by a single corporation to funnel state income tax revenue to their company. … Californians should know that just this year our state committed $10 billion for electric vehicles and their infrastructure.”
- California Environmental Voters, one of the measure’s proponents, tweeted at Newsom: “CA needs a leader who is going to stand up for middle and low-income communities grappling with the climate crisis instead of protecting billionaires, the CA Republican Party, and the Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association.”
For the record: The mention of aviation fuels was updated to make clear that they are directly regulated by the federal government.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 9,804,803 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 92,469 deaths (+0.2% 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 Election updates
The past few days have been chock-full of election news, so let’s dive right in:
- What office is Newsom running for again? Less than three weeks after airing ads in Florida, the governor’s reelection campaign on Friday ran full-page ads in three Texas newspapers contrasting California and the Lone Star State’s approaches to abortion and gun control. The ads — first shared with NBC News in what some have interpreted as a signal of Newsom’s possible national ambitions — came the same day he signed into law a bill modeled on Texas’ abortion ban that will allow private Californians to sue anyone who makes, sells or distributes certain illegal firearms and win damages of as much as $10,000 per weapon. “It’s absolutely true that I’d much rather follow, ‘When they go low, we go high,'” Newsom told NBC News. “But I also think we’d be completely missing the moment we’re living in.” The law is certain to be met with legal challenges that could lead all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court: The Firearms Policy Coalition has vowed to “seek out every available tool to redress this legislative overreach.” Also Friday, Newsom attended Democratic Governors Association fundraisers in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, David Turner, a spokesperson for the association, confirmed.
- November 2024 ballot measures take shape: Californians won’t get a chance to decide this year whether to raise the state minimum wage to $18 per hour, after a superior court judge on Friday rejected proponents’ attempts to force it onto this November’s ballot, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports. But the measure is eligible for the November 2024 ballot — as is another initiative, cleared Friday by Secretary of State Shirley Weber, to repeal a California labor law allowing workers to sue their employers on behalf of the state. The law, known as PAGA, was recently watered down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
- A hot race cools down: Giselle Hale, the Democratic mayor of Redwood City, announced Friday that she’s ending her bid for a state Assembly seat representing Silicon Valley, citing the campaign’s mental health toll on her husband and two daughters. The race between progressive Hale and the more moderate Democrat Diane Papan, a San Mateo city councilmember, has drawn $1.3 million in outside spending — almost all of it to support Papan and oppose Hale, a CalMatters tracker shows. “While I could compartmentalize the lies and attacks and keep driving — it was impossible for my family not to be impacted,” Hale tweeted. “My five-year-old was regularly served one of my opponents’ attack ads while watching a YouTube kids’ show; and my eight-year-old told me that a classmate brought a negative mailer to school. They couldn’t comprehend grown ups doing such things.”
2 When employers steal wages from workers
CalMatters and CBS are teaming up to investigate wage theft in California, which is so pervasive a problem that workers were deprived of nearly $2 billion from not being paid minimum wage in 2015, according to an analysis from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. Just last year, California workers filed thousands of claims totaling more than $300 million in stolen wages — yet the state keeps violating its own deadlines to resolve wage theft cases, forcing low-income workers to wait hundreds of days for their cases to be decided by the Labor Commissioner’s Office, as CalMatters’ Alejandro Lazo, Jeanne Kuang, Lil Kalish, Agnes Lee and Erica Yee report in this comprehensive explainer.
- Learn more about wage theft by tuning in to CBS’ broadcast, produced in collaboration with CalMatters, TONIGHT at 9 p.m. on CBS Los Angeles (KCBS — CBS 2), 10 p.m. on CBS Sacramento (KOVR — CBS 13) and 11 p.m. on CBS San Francisco (KPIX 5).
- Have you experienced wage theft? Share your story with CalMatters and CBS here.
In other economic news: California’s unemployment rate fell to 4.2% in June, a touch better than the 4.3% notched in May and its lowest rate amid the pandemic, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. Newsom’s administration applauded the numbers, noting that “the state added jobs for the ninth consecutive month, dropped unemployment for the twelfth consecutive month and made large unemployment gains for the sixth consecutive month.” Nevertheless, there are signs “the California job machine is slowing down significantly” amid fears of a recession and skyrocketing inflation rates, said Michael Bernick, an attorney at Duane Morris and former EDD director. He pointed out that the 19,900 jobs California added in June is far below the monthly average of more than 72,000 jobs added between May 2021 and May 2022.
- Bernick: “A recession feedback loop is emerging in California, by which employers are hearing about an economic downturn, and freezing hiring or even laying off workers in some cases. The freezes and layoffs in turn drive an additional downturn.”
- Indeed, for the first time since the pandemic struck in early 2020, California’s tax revenues in June fell short of projections rather than greatly exceeding them, according to the California Center for the Jobs and the Economy. June cash receipts were about $2.4 billion less than expected, “largely due to lower proceeds from personal income tax,” according to a July report from the state Department of Finance.
3 Rage rooms: Stress relief or toxic exposure?
Have you ever been burnt out from work and decided to take out your frustration by heading to a rage room, where you can pay to smash old dishes, glassware and cabinets with a baseball bat? Although these businesses have become increasingly popular — not a surprise given the tumult of the past few years — some of California’s top environmental regulators are concerned about the release of toxic materials when operators allow customers to smash electronic waste like computer monitors and TVs, which could put both the environment and people’s health at risk, CalMatters’ Robert Lewis reports. At least 14 rage rooms are operating in California, but the state’s understaffed Department of Toxic Substances Control has conducted just one inspection to date, according to Rita Hypnarowski, a senior environmental scientist and e-waste team leader.
- Hypnarowski: “It’s like that nightmare that’s just out of my reach. Like, I know it’s a huge problem. … You’re getting exposed to flying airborne particles and you don’t even know you’re being exposed.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A new attack on Prop. 13 from left-of-center academics invokes racial inequity.
Local government is key to establishing equity: Fresno is a case study for racial, economic and environmental injustice in California — and a potential bellwether for the state’s pursuit of reparations, write Eric Payne of the Central Valley Urban Institute and Courtney McKinney of the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
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