West Coast pact on climate sends the right message

This week, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington and a top official from British Columbia met in San Francisco to announce a broad allegiance to combat climate change.

Many of the ideas that the officials talked about — promoting zero-emission vehicles and charging for carbon pollution — are already in place in California, but there is a chance that wider adoption across the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada could push the policies and technologies into wider adoption nationwide.

In many ways, California has been at the forefront of combating climate change for decades, including with higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and with the recent cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions. In the case of the fuel efficiency standards, the state Environmental Protection Agency mostly followed with national recommendations.

Any new programs in Oregon and Washington would have to be approved by state lawmakers there, and, as The New York Times reported, the senates in both states are more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats than the California Legislature.

In the best-case scenario, the two states and the Canadian province would join in California’s aggressive pushes to combat climate change through new policies or to at least catch up to where the state is now.

The worst this climate pact does is raise the profile of the work California is already doing and any future steps that the state takes. More participants in efforts, especially ones that can alter markets, such as that for electric vehicles, improves the chance of the impacts going national. But changes in California alone have already driven national changes, and they likely will continue to do so.

The game-changer in many ways is high-ranking officials acknowledging the seriousness of climate change and maintaining a public dialogue about it. This pact sends the right message that this is an issue everyone needs to address, and hopefully politicians everywhere are listening.

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