California’s climate reputation tarnished by inaction and oil money

As California struggles to adapt to historic droughts and wildfires fueled by the climate crisis, state lawmakers are taking money from fossil fuel companies and dragging their feet on climate action, officials said Tuesday. activists and members of a legislative climate caucus during a press call.

California’s dismal progress on climate solutions has earned the state a near-failing rating from an environmental group that assesses voting results, budgets and politicians’ policies to hold government to account. responsible.

The state’s failure to pass meaningful climate action last year prompted the California Environmental Voters, or EnviroVoters, to give the state its first “D” since the group began publishing its scorecard. annual in 1973.

“This is the first time in history that we’ve given California such a low score,” said Mary Creasman, CEO of EnviroVoters, formerly the California League of Conservation Voters.

“It’s unacceptable in a state like California,” she said. “Everyone is paying attention to what California is doing and looking to us to create role models.”

The group didn’t give California an F, Creasman said, solely because the state made “significant climate-related investments” in last year’s budget.

California lawmakers haven’t enacted meaningful climate legislation since 2018, she said, when they passed a law requiring 100% of retail electricity to come from renewables and zero-energy sources. carbon by 2045.

That year, the state Environmental Protection Agency released a report warning of an increasingly bleak future under climate change. The report follows several years of record high temperatures, the historic drought of 2012-2016 and the largest and deadliest wildfires on record at the time. Last year’s wildfires were even worse.

“From record temperatures to proliferating wildfires and rising seas, climate change poses an immediate and growing threat to California’s environment, public health, and economic vitality,” the report notes.

The slow pace of action on climate change is partly a consequence of the nature of representative democracies, said Assemblyman Steve Bennett (D-Ventura), who drafted and passed a bill that makes the oil and gas industry responsible for the cost of cleaning up abandoned wells.

“Politicians don’t become popular by asking people to make sacrifices today to solve problems that will arise 15 or 20 years from now,” said Bennett, a member of what EnviroVoters calls the Climate Action Caucus for his ” bold action” to solve the climate crisis.

But the scale of the climate crisis and its consequences for California demand a sense of urgency, Bennett added. “We have already passed so many deadlines that have been there. But we have to have a burning feeling within us that there is no time to waste.

money talks

California cut carbon emissions by just 1.6% between 2018 and 2019. Emissions need to decline two to three times that rate to avoid the worst of the climate crisis, Creasman said.

“As the climate crisis has gotten worse and worse since 2018, our legislative action has gotten worse and worse,” she said.

So EnviroVoters started following the money.

“Sixty-three percent of lawmakers are taking oil money,” she said. Ninety-six percent of Republicans have received contributions from oil companies and their political action committees in the past two election cycles, Creasman said, compared to 52% of Democrats.

The lowest-rated Democrat in the legislature, Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), represents Kern County, the heartland of California’s oil industry. Salas has received more than $280,000 in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry since 2012, according to a review of records filed with campaign finance portal Follow the Money.

Lawmakers like Salas who scored low are blocking climate legislation, Creasman said. In contrast, several lawmakers, including Bennett, got high marks for consistently voting in favor of environmental and climate legislation in committees and floor votes.

“We only have until 2030 to implement massive changes on the climate crisis,” Creasman said.
Yet “climate retardants” stand in the way, she said, saying they believe in the science of climate change on the one hand while continually delaying action on the other.

Beyond campaign contributions, the oil industry spends millions of dollars to sway politicians and regulators, offering them five-star hotel stays and expensive dinners. Between 2018 and 2021, oil lobby organizations spent nearly $77.5 million advocating for oil industry interests, according to research by EnviroVoters.

work for change

State Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) represents a community beleaguered by pollution from industries such as metal processing plants and diesel emissions from the second-busiest container port in the United States.

“There are a lot of things that people in my district are specifically dealing with and why I myself don’t have the luxury of waiting as a legislator on these climate policies,” Gonzalez said. “And so my big question is, what are we waiting for?”

Gonzalez sponsored a bill to add environmental justice representatives to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, but the bill failed to pass the Senate.

“We will continue to push to make sure we see environmental justice representatives in some of our larger air quality management districts,” Gonzalez said. “This is exactly what we need, the voice of those who live and work in these regions to raise issues of climate justice.”

David Chiu, a former Assemblyman (D-San Francisco) who is now a San Francisco city attorney, called climate change “the existential crisis of our time.”

Chiu, who left the Legislature a few months ago, said his only regret was leaving before California passed major measures to tackle the climate crisis. “If we don’t take real and meaningful action in the near future, the state of our planet, our very future is at risk, the lives of our children and grandchildren are at risk,” Chiu said. “We have no choice. We have to act.

Chiu pointed to the prospects for wind off the California coast to provide both clean energy and jobs for tens of thousands of workers. “We need to invest in a smart, reliable electric grid to support the decarbonization of many of our sectors and ensure that all Californians have the electricity they need,” he said.

This means designing networks that match supply and demand and are tailored to regional needs, he said, while prioritizing low-income households and requiring communities to have a say. on the policies that affect them.

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One way to fund the costs of helping communities adapt to climate-related calamities is to require the companies that laid the groundwork for the crisis to foot the bill. In 2017, San Francisco and Oakland sued Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell to pay for the costs of building levees and other infrastructure to protect cities from rising seas.

“We are in the midst of a major lawsuit to hold five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies accountable, asking the courts to hold them accountable for the cost of infrastructure needed to protect cities from the consequences of climate change due to rising seas. level due to the massive production of fossil fuels,” Chiu said.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) takes a similar approach. His Corporate Climate Responsibility Act passed the Senate in January, he said, after “a huge battle” with the fossil fuel industry. The bill, co-sponsored by EnviroVoters and other groups, would require the world’s largest companies to disclose their entire footprint, including their supply chain, Wiener said.

Transparency will create a major incentive for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint, Wiener said, and end greenwashing. “Some of our biggest companies are promoting themselves as green, when if you look at their actual carbon footprint, including their supply chain, they are anything but green.”

And that includes the state of California.

“We have a huge pension plan here, almost $800 billion in assets,” Gonzalez said. “But about $10 billion of those [assets] are now invested in fossil fuels.

Gonzalez and Wiener introduced a bill last month calling for the state to divest from fossil fuels. And with California projecting a budget surplus of tens of billions of dollars, it’s vital that Californians see direct climate investments in their communities, Gonzalez said.

These dollars should “go straight back into communities” to support policies that will improve people’s lives and “make this world of climate change we live in better.”

For all the challenges California faces, there’s good news, Creasman said. California voters across the state are feeling the effects of climate change – fires, extreme heat and drought. They say climate change is their top priority.

“We have the political solutions,” she said. “What we need to do is build political power and hold our leaders accountable.”

And that means taking action worthy of the state’s reputation as a climate leader.

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