This past week, California’s first major fire of the summer wildfire season erupted outside of Yosemite. Within a day, the Oak Fire had set ablaze more than 11,000 acres. Within two days, that number had increased to upwards of 16,000 acres. Although firefighters began to gain control of the Oak Fire fairly quickly, the rapidity of its initial spread brought back memories of some of the most explosive California fires of the past few years, in which millions of acres have burned, thousands of homes have been lost, and dozens of lives have been snuffed out.
Last Saturday, California Governor Newsom wrote a two-page letter to President Biden urging him to partner with the state to ramp up climate change interventions, and detailing how it was leading the way in terms of massive investments in green technology and specific commitments to phase out the use of fossil fuels. Newsom specifically called for the federal government to use the EPA to tighten air pollution rules surrounding the trucking industry. He decried the GOP, along with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, for standing in the way of passing meaningful climate change legislation federally.
In the days since that letter was released, Manchin has done something of a U-turn on supporting large-scale legislation, and it now seems at least possible that by summer’s end Congress will have voted into being a law that channels hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of investments into tackling climate change. If the bill, marketed as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, does pass, it will be a game changer, cementing into place huge changes over the next few years, and finally allowing the feds to get serious about rapidly reducing the country’s dependency on fossil fuels.
Yet whether the Schumer-Manchin compromise ultimately holds, whether it brings on board the other Democratic Senate holdout, Kyrsten Sinema, and whether the Senate parliamentarian signs off on the whole package being passed via budget reconciliation all remain up in the air. Manchin has backed off from a lot of agreements over the past year, and until the ink is dry, there’s no guarantee this latest iteration will succeed.
In the meantime this summer, in the face of congressional inaction, California has been charging ahead with its green agenda. In recent days, the Newsom administration has laid the groundwork for new renewable energy targets, increased use of carbon removal technology, new mandates on constructing clean buildings, and speeding up the transition to green fuels within transportation. All told, the raft of recent environmental pledges adds up to a more than $50 billion commitment from California to address climate change.
Much of this will be channeled into innovations designed to limit the extent of global warming, but billions of dollars will also go into mitigation projects, such as those intended to shore up water supplies in the drought-stricken state, as well as to retrofit schools so that they stay cooler as average temperatures increase, and to create a fleet of electric school buses. The “climate change scoping plan” calls for huge investments over the next 20 years: in offshore wind farms, for the construction of up to 7 million “climate friendly” homes, and for massively ramped-up use of clean fuels in the aviation industry. These proposals will likely be adopted by the state’s Air Resources Board later this year.
Contrast this with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decision last year to order state agencies to use all available tools to oppose Biden’s climate change agenda and to protect the state’s fossil fuel industries. Or the call by almost all GOP governors for Biden to boost domestic fossil fuel production. Or the opposition by GOP states and their residents to electric vehicles. Or GOP legislators’ efforts to go after “woke” companies that are pushing green investments.
Newsom hasn’t always gotten everything right, and certainly California has its own massive political and social problems. But on the environment, and specifically on climate change, it is using its huge clout effectively at the moment. In an era of political irrationality and growing right-wing populist extremism, it stands in stark contrast to the Texas vision of what 21st-century America should look like.