State lawmakers on Wednesday closed out the legislative session by passing a late-night flurry of bills aimed at slashing emissions and investing in clean energy, reasserting California’s role as an environmental leader on the national and global stage.
The new laws would build upon the state’s recent commitment to eliminate the sale of gas cars by 2035, double down on clean energy generation, establish “buffer zones” between oil wells and communities and mandate California cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85% below 1990 levels by 2045.
Lawmakers also approved a record $54 billion to spend on clean energy, transit and drought resilience. These funds boost Gov. Gavin Newsom’s national stature as he mulls a potential 2024 presidential bid, and they pave the way for the state to take advantage of federal dollars from the landmark Inflation Reduction Act.
“The governor’s plan and commitment to spend this $54 billion on climate is, I think, ideally timed,” said Daniel Kammen, professor of energy at UC Berkeley, who noted that the cost of climate-related damages is starting to outpace investments in mitigation. “There’s no way this isn’t money well spent.”
Still, the new rules come as a sweltering heat wave washes over California, spiking the mercury 10 to 20 degrees above average and triggering the California Independent System Operator to issue flex alerts asking residents to dial back power use.
New wildfires also ignited, threatening the transmission lines that supply power to millions of homes. And a protracted drought prompted Newsom to direct $8 billion toward bolstering a dwindling water supply that could see a 10% loss in the next two decades.
The fingerprints of a warming world have been all over California for the past decade. But despite mounting impacts, advocates say their calls to move the legislative needle have fallen on deaf ears. “The state Legislature has not passed anything commensurate with the scale of the climate crisis in years,” said Ryan Schleeter, communications director for The Climate Center, a policy nonprofit.
Until now. “One of the reasons I’m optimistic is because a lot of what happened on Wednesday didn’t look possible even a few weeks before,” Schleeter said, noting Newsom’s last-ditch push to address climate change in mid-August. “The governor has not been this hands-on in the legislative process, certainly on climate, ever.”
Still, this package did not deliver everything environmental advocates were hoping for. Notably, in a bid to avoid rolling blackouts, lawmakers voted to extend the life of the controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which generated 6% of California’s electricity last year but no carbon emissions.
The measure hands more than $1 billion dollars to PG&E to keep the facility up and running despite criticism from some environmental groups that the plant poses safety and environmental concerns; instead, they want to see more funding invested in renewable energy projects.
The package also includes legislation that would direct funding toward hotly contested carbon capture and storage technologies, which some environmental groups argue would give the oil and gas industry the ability to take a business-as-usual approach to extracting fossil fuels.
But overall, experts and advocates expressed renewed optimism that this package is a welcome step in addressing the climate crisis. “The bottom line is that what’s good for the climate is good for California,” said Schleeter.
Below are highlights of California’s climate and clean energy package, which Newsom has signed or is expected to sign into law by the end of the month.
AB 1279 California’s carbon neutrality future: This bill would codify the state’s existing carbon neutrality goal of 2045, mandating at least an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels. It also would require that the state maintain net negative greenhouse gas emissions thereafter. Carbon neutrality, or net zero, means balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal.
SB 1020 Electrify everything: This bill would establish new targets for clean energy generation, moving up the state’s existing target of generating 100% of retail electricity through renewable energy, including wind and solar power, by 2045. The bill would require 90% of electricity to be renewable by 2035 and 95% by 2040.
SB 905 Capturing carbon: Achieving carbon neutrality hinges, to some degree, on the state’s ability to capture carbon in the atmosphere and sequester it back into the ground. This bill would direct the California Air Resources Board to develop a program for carbon capture, utilization and storage and establish regulations for such projects at refineries and other industrial facilities.
Though carbon capture is a controversial topic among some environmental groups, which see it as a pathway for oil and gas companies to continue extracting fossil fuels, mounting scientific research suggests that carbon capture technologies will need to be part of the solution to keep the planet from heating beyond 2°C.
SB 1314 Keeping it in the ground: This bill would ensure that new carbon capture projects will not result in increased oil production through enhanced oil recovery. Essentially, the law would prevent oil and gas companies from extracting fossil fuels that have already been sequestered.
SB 846 A vote for nuclear power: Newsom signed this bill into law Friday evening, extending the life of the Diablo Canyon power plant in San Luis Obispo. It’s a controversial measure that gives PG&E $1.4 billion to continue operating the plant until 2030. Opponents argue the state should instead invest that money into clean energy initiatives.
AB 1757 Leaning on nature: This bill would require state agencies to set targets for carbon sequestration through nature-based solutions — such as planting trees, restoring wetlands, applying compost to working lands and urban forestry projects.
SB 1174 Upgrading the power grid: Newsom also signed this bill Friday evening, expediting the state’s transition to fossil-free energy by accelerating the development of power lines needed to connect offshore wind farms and other energy sources to the electric grid.