California’s Climate Regulations Are Working. Let’s Build On Success.

Bill Scher

We in America do a poor job chronicling what works and building on success. So kudos to Mother Jones and its reporter Gabriel Kahn for covering how California and its governor Jerry Brown have created a template for cutting carbon emissions, creating green jobs and averting a climate crisis.

Kahn reports that California has shattered the argument that government regulations hurt economies:

Today, California can claim first place in just about every renewable-energy category: It is home to the nation’s largest wind farm and the world’s largest solar thermal plant. It has the largest operating photovoltaic solar installation on Earth and more rooftop solar than any other state. (It helps to have a lot of roofs.)

This new industry has been an economic boon as well. Solar companies now employ an estimated 64,000 people in the state, surpassing the number of people working for all the major utilities. California has attracted more venture capital investment for clean-energy technologies than the European Union and China combined. Even the state’s manufacturing base is experiencing a boost; one of California’s largest factories is Tesla Motors’ sprawling electric-vehicle assembly plant in the Bay Area.

All of these advances have undercut a fundamental tenet of economics: that more growth equals more emissions. Between 2003 and 2013 (the most recent data), the Golden State decreased its greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 percent while increasing its gross domestic product by 17 percent—and it did so under the thumb of the nation’s most stringent energy regulations.

Under the law enacted by Gov. Brown, “by 2030, California must get half its electricity from renewables and it must double the energy efficiency of its buildings.” California has a way to go before meeting its targets, and Kahn notes the state has already picked the “low-hanging fruit” which may mean that “scientists and businesspeople will have to come up with new technologies.”

But Brown is blunt about how to get there, telling participants of the Paris climate summit how California has gotten as far as it has: “you need the coercive power of government to say ‘do this.’ Now you have to be wise and don’t say something stupid or try to order something stupid. But the fact is the regulations supported by the laws drive innovation … You have to push business further than they want to go, but within their capacity to reach it.”

Kahn also credits Brown’s predecessor Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for creating a game-changing $3.3 billion rebate program to incentivize rooftop solar installation – the consumer rebates were reduced as more panels were installed, spurring implementation. In the end, California got “a new industry—and a lot of new jobs.”

Kahn ends on a “sobering” note, as oil interests have successfully watered down legislation designed to cut petroleum use, and electric car purchases have been slow despite rebates. California is not on a glide path and neither is the rest of the world. But California has implemented activist government policies that have worked. Let’s build on success.

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