California’s climate countdown: Can the state power through it?
It’s climate crunch time in California.
Starting today and lasting through Thursday, generators and transmission-line operators should delay any scheduled maintenance to avoid possible power outages as Californians crank up their air conditioners to deal with an expected onslaught of 100-plus degree heat, the state’s electric grid operator said Friday.
The California Independent System Operator’s warning came on the heels of draft legislation Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office unveiled late Thursday to extend the life of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo, by as much as 10 years — and give its operator, PG&E, a forgivable loan of as much as $1.4 billion to do so.
Taken together, the two actions underscore the extent to which California is at risk of repeating the events of 2020, when the state was unable to supply enough energy to meet demand, triggering the first rolling blackouts in nearly two decades.
Newsom — no doubt eager to avoid power outages as he elevates his national profile in what some suspect is preparation for a future presidential run — has for months pushed the idea of temporarily extending Diablo Canyon’s lifespan past its planned 2025 closure to help shore up the state’s electricity supplies.
But the draft legislation makes explicit the urgency behind his proposal: It would exempt the Diablo Canyon extension from review under the California Environmental Quality Act and several other environmental laws, limiting the legal challenges that anti-nuclear advocates and other environmental justice groups could bring against it, according to the Los Angeles Times.
And, unless Newsom calls for a special legislative session, lawmakers will have to approve his plan before the regular session ends on Aug. 31 — giving them less than three weeks to reach an agreement on the complex issue. (That isn’t the only contentious environmental legislation they’re grappling with: Newsom on Friday sent them a list of last-minute climate proposals he wants enacted, including accelerated greenhouse gas cuts, new interim targets for reaching 100% clean energy and safety zones around new oil and gas wells.)
- Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham, a San Luis Obispo Republican, told the Sacramento Bee: “I think (the Newsom administration is) pretty serious” about Diablo Canyon. “Serious enough to be briefing me about it, serious enough to be proposing some bill language in a trailer bill, serious enough to be expending some political capital to try to make the case and get the information to the voters and the public as to why we need it.”
- But the draft bill has angered some environmental advocates: “Legislators should reject it out of hand,” Environment California, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a joint statement. “With Governor Newsom and the legislature working to appropriate climate budget funds and advance ambitious climate legislation in the waning days of the legislative session, this proposal is a dangerous and costly distraction.”
The swirl of proposals comes as California prepares to lose its top climate regulator. Newsom announced Friday that Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency, will step down at the end of the month to lead the Waverley Street Foundation, a new $3.5 billion climate change nonprofit founded by Laurene Powell Jobs. Newsom appointed Amelia Yana Garcia Gonzalez, a California Department of Justice special assistant attorney general focused on environmental issues, to replace Blumenfeld, the latest high-ranking official to depart the governor’s administration.
Other important climate news:
- Amid escalating drought, California and six other states are facing a Tuesday deadline to reach an agreement to drastically slash the amount of water they pull from the Colorado River.
- As weekend flash floods pummeled San Diego County and the San Bernardino County mountains, a study published Friday in Science Advances found that California is at increasing risk of a megaflood that could unleash an average of nearly 16 inches of precipitation on the state in a month, submerging parts of the Central Valley, Los Angeles and Orange County; displacing as many as 10 million people; shutting down major freeways; and causing more than $1 trillion in damages.
- Over the protests of environmental justice advocates, Los Angeles water regulators unanimously approved Thursday an agreement with Boeing to clean up toxic pollutants from the Santa Susana Field Lab in Ventura County where nuclear research and rocket engine tests were once conducted.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior will have to conduct a new environmental review before restarting coal leasing on federal lands, according to a court decision Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Friday.
- Oh, and California’s increasingly dry and warm climate is resulting in more frequent sightings of Turkestan cockroaches.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,104,761 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 93,378 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.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Kaiser mental health workers to strike
Today, more than 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health workers are set to launch an open-ended strike in Northern California and the Central Valley to protest what they say are unsustainable clinician workloads and lengthy appointment waits in violation of a new state law requiring follow-up mental health care for most patients within 10 business days. The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents the striking clinicians, alleged in a Thursday complaint to state health regulators that Kaiser is canceling thousands of behavioral health appointments and isn’t providing patients with alternatives in violation of state law. The union also said it reached a deal with Kaiser on wages during Friday and Saturday bargaining sessions but other issues, such as staffing and dividing providers’ time between patient appointments and administrative tasks, remained unresolved. Further bargaining sessions haven’t been scheduled, according to the union.
- Jennifer Browning, a licensed clinical worker at Kaiser Roseville and member of the union bargaining team, said in a statement: “We’ve been telling Kaiser executives since Day One that this isn’t about money. It’s about our professional integrity and our ability to provide care that will help patients get better.”
- Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said in a statement that some “nonurgent” appointments may need to be rescheduled, though Kaiser has “expanded our network of high-quality community providers and will continue to prioritize urgent and emergency care.” She added, “The union is well aware that its’ (sic) decision to strike is intended to hurt Kaiser Permanente’s ability to meet the needs of our patients: that is the point of the strike. The reality is that this strike, like the union’s proposal to reduce appointment time, will only make fewer providers available for mental health care, at a time of unprecedented demand. This strike is an unnecessary tactic to increase the union’s leverage at the bargaining table, making it harder, not easier, to deliver mental health care.”
Speaking of mental health care, Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco said Friday that he plans to table his controversial bill to decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs after it was amended in a secretive legislative process to only authorize studying such a move. “I am looking forward to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs. Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment. We are not giving up,” Wiener said in a statement.
2 Health care cost changes coming to California
From CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra: Rarely is there promising news when it comes to health care costs. But this week, President Joe Biden is set to sign into law the Inflation Reduction Act, a climate, health and tax bill passed Friday by the U.S. House of Representatives that’s expected to provide relief for at least some Americans. Here’s a look at what some of the measure’s health care provisions mean for California:
- Enhanced federal subsidies set to expire at the end of the year will be extended for another three years. That means that about 1.6 million Californians who buy their health coverage through Covered California, the state’s insurance marketplace, will continue to receive the additional aid that helps reduce their monthly premiums. Covered California officials had cautioned that if the federal government let the subsidies expire, premiums would have doubled for some low-income residents next year. Health insurance companies are already set to hike premium rates by an average of 6% in 2023, the biggest increase since 2019.
- The federal bill also caps out-of-pocket prescription costs at $2,000 per year for seniors on Medicare drug plans, which could benefit nearly 115,000 Californians, according to Health Access California, a health care consumer advocacy group.
- And it caps insulin copays at $35 a month for people enrolled in Medicare, the federal insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities. The insulin cap is expected to benefit nearly 333,000 Californians. Last week, state lawmakers killed a bill that would have capped insulin copays for privately insured Californians.
- Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, said in a statement: “When President Biden signs this landmark legislation, it will be just in time to ensure that those signing up for Covered California during this fall’s open enrollment won’t see premium spikes of thousands of dollars per year. It will also allow California to take extra steps to lower cost-sharing and potentially eliminate deductibles for some plans.”
In other health care news:
- A New York man’s polio diagnosis — the first in the U.S. in nearly a decade — has sparked concerns the virus could spread to other states, including California. Although public health experts say there is “zero” threat for vaccinated Californians, they’re urging families to ensure their children are immunized. More than 1 in 8 California children need to catch up on routine vaccinations missed or delayed during the pandemic, according to a recent memo from the state public health department.
- After CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reported that a California program to provide hearing aids to an estimated 2,300 uninsured kids annually has given devices to only 39 children, Senate Republicans on Friday sent a letter to the California Department of Health Care Services demanding an explanation. “If the state promises hearing aids to children, it must do better than reaching less than 2% of that goal,” the lawmakers wrote.
3 Quartet of election news
With California’s Nov. 8 general election less than three months away, stay up to date on everything you need to know by bookmarking CalMatters’ comprehensive voter guide, which is updated with all the results from the June 7 primary and breaks down where the final two candidates for each statewide office stand on key issues.
Now, for a rundown of the latest election news:
- Sports establishment versus legislative establishment: Major League Baseball on Friday became the first major sports league to weigh in on California’s two dueling measures to legalize sports betting: It endorsed Proposition 27, which would allow online sports gambling offered by large, well-established betting companies and certified Native American gaming tribes. But the Democratic and Republican leaders of the state Assembly and Senate oppose Prop. 27, arguing that it would usurp Native Americans’ tribal sovereignty. Some tribes are backing another measure, Prop. 26, to allow in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and designated horse tracks.
- Words matter: In the latest legal wrangling over ballot measure labels and summaries, supporters of Prop. 30 — which would raise taxes on millionaires to fund a variety of climate initiatives — declared victory in a lawsuit over the wording of ballot arguments submitted by the measure’s opponents. But the No on 30 campaign also declared victory. The final result? Five wording changes, including three replacements of “will” or “would” with “could.”
- San Bernardino secession: Three Democratic state lawmakers are pushing back against an initiative San Bernardino County supervisors placed on the November ballot asking voters if they want to secede from California. Secession would have to be approved by both the state Legislature and U.S. Congress. “Why are we spending public resources to put this before voters in the first place?” state Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino and Assemblymembers Eloise Gómez Reyes of San Bernardino and Freddie Rodriguez of Chino wrote in a letter to county supervisors obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The lawmakers said they were “shocked with the reasoning behind this initiative, concerned about the cost to taxpayers to essentially ask local officials to do their jobs, and disappointed in the narrative being created regarding our community.”
- San Francisco shakeup: It’s the “campaign that shall not be named,” San Francisco-based Democratic strategist Dan Newman told the New York Times: the behind-the-scenes race to eventually replace Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Among those seen as contenders for Pelosi’s highly coveted seat: her daughter Christine Pelosi, a member of the Democratic National Committee executive committee; state Sen. Scott Wiener; and former supervisor Jane Kim, executive director of the California Working Families Party.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Government squabbling is crippling plans to address California’s homelessness crisis.
The promise of California’s plan to expand apprenticeships: The Golden State aims to turn apprenticeship into the common path and first choice for 500,000 in-school and out-of-school youths for whom the opportunity cost of higher education is simply too high, writes Natalie Palugyai, secretary of the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency.
Other things worth your time
L.A. Unified officials knock on doors, urging chronically absent students to return. // Los Angeles Times
Alameda County children wait as caseworkers fail to urgently respond to reports of abuse. // Mercury News
Without a school bus, these San Diego children are learning to get to school by themselves. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Anti-gay race extremist runs unopposed for Bay Area school board seat. // San Francisco Chronicle
Man arrested for California college tuition scheme that targeted veterans. // Los Angeles Times
California efforts to reduce jail population during COVID come to an end as crime rises. // Wall Street Journal
Chesa Boudin, Contra Costa D.A. join group urging California Supreme Court to overturn three-strikes ruling. // San Francisco Chronicle
State investigating campaign finance complaint against Chesa Boudin recall campaign. // San Francisco Chronicle
Brooke Jenkins’ $100K pay may have been legal, but was it ethical? // San Francisco Standard
Accusing a cop: Inside LAPD’s secret discipline system. // Los Angeles Times
She helped put her abuser in prison. Speaking out brought more horror than she could have imagined. // San Francisco Chronicle
Stephon Clark family settles remaining lawsuit with city of Sacramento for $1.7 million. // CapRadio
Caste in California: Tech giants confront ancient Indian hierarchy. // Reuters
Newsom, out front on marriage and marijuana, faces ‘different animal’ on drug sites. // San Francisco Chronicle
Vacaville man is blind, homeless and schizophrenic. Why can’t California help him? // Sacramento Bee
Officials criticized over lack of plan for Project Roomkey’s last 800 homeless residents. // Daily News
As financial collapse looms, Westminster City Council puts tax measure on November ballot. // Los Angeles Times
Kamala Harris, Oakland leaders announce $50 million initiative to invest in children, end poverty. // Los Angeles Times
What takes years and costs $20K? A San Francisco trash can. // Associated Press
First California Starbucks store to unionize just became the first to go on strike. // San Francisco Chronicle
Scion of S.F. coffee dynasty attempts run for district attorney, realizes he needs to be an attorney to qualify. // San Francisco Standard
Political group taps Orange County small business owners to help capture Asian American vote. // Los Angeles Times
California’s vital ocean current could soon see major disruption. Here’s what’s at stake. // San Francisco Chronicle
Alameda County’s ban on wild cow-milking could impact rodeos. // Mercury News
California’s abandoned homesteads fascinated me. My childhood home is one. // Los Angeles Times
New Sierra hiking trail aims to revive mountain towns. // Los Angeles Times
Red Fire burning in Yosemite National Park grows to 250 acres. // San Francisco Chronicle