Legislators returned to work this week and wasted little time in promoting a climate bond to deal with the next climate-related catastrophe, as well as California’s own Green New Deal to help with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and homelessness.
As the legislature returned to work this week for the second year of a two-year session, high on the to-do list is a $4.2 billion climate bond that would help the state prepare for natural disasters, such as wildfires.
The bond proposal, detailed in similar bills authored by Senator Ben Allen and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, would go toward reducing wildfire risk throughout the state. The measures also include money to protect farmland from climate change, bolster the state’s scarce water sources, and help coastal communities plan for sea level rise.
The currently proposed $4.2 billion could increase, as there are some recommendations to buy solar batteries and fuel cells to keep the lights on vulnerable sites, such as nursing homes, when utility companies preemptively shut off electricity to prevent wildfires during windy conditions.
The idea has a long way to go, as the legislature would first need to approve the spending proposal, after which the bond would face voter approval. Voters could be weary of more bonds because the state has borrowed so much money in recent years.
Some Republicans are skeptical, including Assemblyman James Gallagher, whose district includes Paradise, the town that was destroyed by the 2018 Camp Fire. Instead of borrowing more, Gallagher has said the state should use some of the billions of dollars generated every year by the cap-and-trade system to reduce wildfire fuel by better managing forests. He is also recommending (in legislation) to temporarily block a state law that requires utilities to buy renewable generation and, instead, upgrade their equipment to make it less likely to spark wildfires during windstorms.
Gallagher questioned whether borrowing is the best practice, considering the amount of debt the state is already on the hook for.
California’s Green New Deal
Notwithstanding California’s current climate change goals, some legislators feel that California can do better. This week, 14 progressive Democratic legislators unveiled, “The California Green New Deal Act,” which they said is both bold and big. The proposal, contained in AB 1839, is principally authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland).
At a press conference announcing the idea, Bonta said “We’re not getting help from the federal administration, so it’s time for California to do what we do best: to step up and lead. Our children, Mother Nature and the scientific community are all screaming at us to do more and act faster.”
In addition to accelerating the state’s climate goals, the bill seeks to address not only droughts, sea level rise, and wildfires, but also issues of equity – homelessness, poverty, a lack of affordable housing, and income inequality. The co-authors want to further reduce GHG emissions and accelerate clean energy while slashing homelessness in half, increasing affordable housing, and improving life for the poorest Californians — all by 2030.
Also speaking at the press conference, co-author Assemblywoman Shirley Webber (D-San Diego) said, “Why aren’t there people of color involved in this whole issue of the environment? And this New Deal says we have to be. We’re not an afterthought; we’re in the middle of it.”
The act is a spinoff of the federal Green New Deal, sponsored by Senator Ed Markey and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which failed to pass. Bonta said his bill takes the federal vision and applies it to California.
AB 1839 lacks specifics, such as how to reach its goals or how to pay for them, but Bonta said those details will be fleshed out during the legislative process.