Turning a Corner: A Green New Deal for California

Posted December 18, 2018

Photo by Peg Hunter

By Jon Conway, PhD, Greenpower Senior Research Analyst

California is poised for change.

Forced into a new awareness of the severity, immediacy, and interconnectedness of the challenges facing our human family, voters in the 2018 midterm elections showed their hunger for new, better policies—ones that promote climate action, human rights, environmental justice, economic sustainability, and corporate responsibility over reckless exploitation. A record-breaking number of women and people of color were elected to the House, and many of these new representatives—joined by thousands of people across the country—have called for a Green New Deal to create clean energy jobs, protect our planet, and rectify environmental injustice.

In the Golden State, this awakening manifested as new blue counties, new legislative representatives, and a new governor-elect with a mandate from his predecessor to make CA a net-zero state by 2045. While that’s a worthy and ambitious goal, California can—and must—do more. Our state’s recent string of climate change-exacerbated droughts, wildfires, and mudslides have made it painfully clear that inaction will cost us more than we can afford. A Green New Deal for California can build on our accomplishments while also bolstering our state’s economy, restoring our natural environment, and lifting up the most vulnerable among us. You can make California’s climate leadership a model for the rest of the country and the world by emailing Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and your state legislators and asking them to formulate and adopt a Green New Deal for California in 2019.

Click the button below to send an email to Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and your state legislators.

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Outgoing Governor Jerry Brown was on the right track when he ordered our state to eliminate its entire carbon footprint within the next 26 years. But that goal is only a fraction of what Mr. Newsom details in his vision for a sustainable California, as published in a December 2017 blog. In his essay, he outlines a plan that contains all the components of a Green New Deal, firmly committing to:

  • Make California into a renewable energy hub for the nation and export our energy to other states;
  • Diversify our renewable energy supply to include more wind, geothermal, and ocean-based energy;
  • Create a new advanced energy research agency (CARPA-E) that leverages California’s leadership in technology and innovation to spur new climate solutions;
  • Reinvest in disadvantaged communities traditionally harmed by industrial policies;
  • Improve public-private partnerships to build a 21st century grid;
  • Modernize our industry, transportation, and land and water management practices;
  • Refuse oil industry money and hold bad actors accountable; and,
  • Work with frontline communities to end the exploitative practices affecting them.

Achieving all this while meeting the Green New Deal’s top priorities of decarbonization, jobs creation, and environmental justice is no small task.

Fortunately, Newsom will soon be governor of the state that is pioneering one of the best examples for how much of this can be accomplished: Community Choice Energy (CCE). CCE programs—nonprofit, community-run regional electric utilities allowed under California law—are leading the state in renewable energy procurement and development. From San Diego to Sonoma, CCEs are proving to be a way for communities to create jobs while protecting the environment and giving a voice to those who need it most: exactly the shared goals of Governor-elect Newsom and the Green New Deal. As California’s new Governor, Mr. Newsom can and should push for a level playing field for CCEs as the best avenue for California to reach net-zero.

Here’s why.

California is a national and global leader in climate action. Many of the environmental policies tested and proven here inspire other states and countries to follow our lead: the world’s fifth-largest economy transforming itself to be based on sustainability and equity, despite often being in opposition to federal policy goals and powerful special interest groups, sends a powerful signal to the billions of people on this planet who demand something better.

Climate scientists’ most recent estimates give us about a dozen years’ worth of carbon emissions before we reach a point where it will be nearly impossible to turn back. An honest appraisal of the facts leads to one conclusion: the time for bold action, and bold leadership, is now. The nation needs an example of how to build a renewable future today, and, although we still have some distance to travel, California is closer to achieving that than any other state. If we can demonstrate serious and sustained action over the next two years, we can inspire the nation to follow in the years to come.

Motivation, from https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/summary-for-policy-makers/

The Green New Deal is so-named with great intention. When confronted with large-scale economic crisis during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, reinvesting in our national infrastructure to put people back to work and preserving the American financial system for future generations. The federal proposal for a Green New Deal proposal—championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and rapidly gaining support across the country—calls for the formation of a Select Committee to craft a plan to revolutionize the foundations of our modern society within 10 years.

"The select committee shall have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality." DRAFT TEXT FOR PROPOSED ADDENDUM TO HOUSE RULES FOR 116TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES, Select Committee for a Green New Deal, https://ocasio2018.com/green-new-deal

The set of legislative priorities described in the Green New Deal represent California’s best way of getting to net-zero, and provide a quantifiable goal for us. We already have nation-leading programs in renewable energy development, soil carbon sequestration, fuel efficiency, and more. California is uniquely positioned to demonstrate not only that a Green New Deal-type agenda can be done, but that it can be incredibly effective.

When it comes to actual implementation, California is arguably closer to creating a scalable model for a Green New Deal than any other state and measurably closer than the nation as a whole. The first real chance for a federal Green New Deal to be signed into law likely won’t come until 2020; California lawmakers can start crafting or adapting Green New Deal-style bills now to introduce in our next legislative session on January 7.

While slightly smaller in scope than those faced nationally, the challenges to our state are complex and impact the daily lives of nearly 40 million of people; anything short of a coordinated effort runs too high a chance of failure. In practical terms, this level of oversight could best be established through a joint committee in the Senate and House that reviews bills that are part of the Green New Deal package.

As the most populous state in the nation, California’s Green New Deal must ensure that all communities are given equal rights and representation. Too many of the problems California faces have been made by putting the wants of the few over the needs of the many.

When Greenpower was doing outreach to expand the Monterey Bay’s regional CCE program into the Salinas Valley, my colleagues and I went into impacted communities and heard the people tell us they wanted Community Choice because it was a solution that would help them and their families thrive. Through regenerative, responsible practices like CCE, a Green New Deal for California can be a done deal within the next ten years. We have the means and the motivation—and now it’s time to turn the corner.

Contact Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and your state legislators and asking them to support a Green New Deal for California in 2019.

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"We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people." Greta Thunberg, age 15, speaking at COP24: https://cop24.gov.pl/

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