What to know about Newsom’s big climate plan

By Jill Cowan

Gov. Gavin Newsom has in recent weeks repeatedly promised major action to combat global warming as record-breaking wildfires have punished California.

On Wednesday, as my colleague Brad Plumer and I reported, he delivered on those pledges.

Standing before a half-circle of glittering electric cars, Newsom announced an executive order directing regulators to develop a plan that would require automakers to sell steadily more zero-emissions passenger cars in the state, such as battery-powered or hydrogen-powered cars and pickup trucks, until they make up 100% of new auto sales. This would have to be done by 2035.

He framed the move as part of California’s work to at once be a leader in fighting climate change and to benefit economically from that foresight.

“This is the next big global industry,” Newsom said at a virtual news conference, referring to clean-energy technology, like electric vehicles. “And California wants to dominate it.”

The plan would also, among other things, set a goal for all heavy-duty trucks on the road in California to be zero-emissions by 2045 where possible. It also sets the goal of ending new permits for hydraulic fracturing by 2024.

The governor said he would work with the state’s Legislature to set rules that would better protect vulnerable communities from nearby fossil-fuel extraction and help the state’s energy industry transition away from oil and gas. Newsom said he lacked the authority to ban oil and gas drilling in the state on his own.

“None of us are naive. California is a fossil-fuel state,” he said. “We need to focus on a just transition.”

As you might imagine, the reaction to the order was swift and varied.

Some environmental justice advocates said the order didn’t go far enough.

Gladys Limon, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, said that while the move toward zero-emissions cars was laudable, anything short of halting new oil and gas extraction permits entirely — not just ending hydraulic fracturing — undercuts that work.

And she said that the governor’s announcement lacked urgency for protecting vulnerable communities.

“We urge our state’s leadership to move more quickly on identifying how our transition from a fossil-fuel-based economy will align with an equitable one,” she said, referring to the order’s plan to build a carbon-neutral California economy. “We look forward to working with the administration to center front-line communities and workers to ensure that they benefit from critically needed health and economic benefits.”

Oil and gas industry representatives criticized the order as job-killing and practically unfeasible.

Cathy Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said she believed the governor’s ambitious plan did not include enough information about how the state would pay to build up infrastructure for electric vehicles, nor did it account for how expensive gas would become for people who can’t afford to buy a new electric car.

“I don’t see where A plus B equals C,” she said.

As for the transition of workers out of oil and gas production into green jobs, she said there needed to be a real discussion about relative pay.

“We don’t just have jobs; we have careers,” she said.

And then, there’s the fact that vehicle-emissions regulations have been at the center of one of many long-running fights between the Trump administration and California.

Mary Nichols, chairperson of the California Air Resources Board, said she expected the state to be taken to court over the regulations.

“We’ll get there eventually,” she said Wednesday at the news conference.

Paul Cort, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, said that in any case, the governor’s move sent a strong signal.

Although many of the commitments it laid out were already well underway, the rules, which will be enshrined by agencies like the air resources board, have been given a powerful boost.

“There will be those last gasp fights, for sure, but I think it is a signal to the manufacturers like Ford, which was highlighted today, that if they commit to this future, if they make those investments, there will be a market for them,” Cort said.

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