First and foremost, my apologies for the radio silence last week. I think this was the first week since we initially launched Cliffnotes back in the summer of 2012 that I haven’t gotten something to your inboxes. Last week was hijacked by a big proposal due to a funder (I know many of you can understand how that feels), and there wasn’t a spare second to hammer out the blog, much as I love doing so. Anyway, my sincere apologies!
This week, as is unfortunately often the case, I’m on the road – this time in D.C., after a stop in Madison, Wis., where I got to talk about local climate strategies with my dear friends from RE-AMP. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time working on climate and energy issues, it’s that both are profoundly local: fossil energy sources, clean energy alternatives, and climate impacts vary wildly across the U.S., not to mention the globe. So it’s no surprise that cities, especially those experiencing the very urgent issues of sea level rise and storm surge, are often on the front lines of climate action. (On this general topic, I love this piece from RMS’s Robert Muir-Wood, “Is Water the New Wind?”) According to a recent MIT survey, 59 percent of nearly 300 U.S. cities surveyed by MIT reported pursuing climate adaptation planning, and 13 percent of these reported having already completed a climate vulnerability and risk assessment.
Thank goodness cities are taking action, because our opportunity to enact policies to effectively curtail the worst impacts from climate change is shrinking rapidly, according to the latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to the IPCC’s authors, we have only about fifteen years to implement economy-wide reductions in carbon emissions if we want to avoid the most dangerous consequences. Those reductions must go far beyond local electricity, fuel, and land use policies, but they certainly can’t hurt – and they may prove the catalyst for action for local politicians who can’t ignore their own constituents even as they face inertia in Washington.
In California, we like to think we’re the model for taking local action statewide, and taking statewide action national. Here’s how our policy initiatives are shaping up this legislative session:
- Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg drew criticism from environmental groups in February when he unveiled a plan to implement a new carbon tax to replace California’s cap and trade system for transportation fuels. This week he withdrew that proposal, and replaced it with a smart long-term spending plan for cap and trade auction revenues. The proposal would invest 20 percent of the new revenue in California’s High Speed Rail project. 40 percent would go to affordable housing with an emphasis on transit-oriented development, 30 percent to new mass transit projects, and 10 percent to fund maintenance of roads and highways. (There’s a nice breakdown and pie chart in the full proposal from Steinberg’s office, available here.)
- For reference on how that might translate into dollars, Governor Brown’s January draft budget projects $850 million in auction revenue this year, and the LAO projects between $12-45 billion in cumulative revenue between now and 2020, depending on the price of allowances.
- Here’s why Sen. Stenberg’s proposal matters to the climate: Our transportation and building sectors are our top two sources of statewide greenhouse gas emissions. Passenger vehicle traffic alone accounted for 26.5 percent of our emissions in 2011, according to ARB’s most recent inventory. Both sectors will need to undergo fundamental transformation for us to meet our long-term goals. Sen. Steinberg understands this well; he was the author of SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, which incorporates sustainable community development into transportation planning.
- In other infrastructure news, enviros may have missed the fact that the state’s Emergency Repair Program, which exists to pay for the most egregious repair issues in our public school facilities, finally got some much-needed attention – and potential funding – this week. According to a recent CA Legislative Analyst’s Office report, Governor Brown has proposed $188 million for grants or reimbursements to these schools to address facility conditions that pose immediate health and safety risks to students. It’s a good step toward solving a critical problem: In research we released last year, Next Generation identified at least $193 million in energy-related projects on the ERP waiting list – projects that could be generating cost-savings to be reinvested in facility upkeep. The program is currently owed over $459 million stemming from a class-action lawsuit in 2003.
- California isn’t the only place making progress: here in DC, the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program is “back in business,” announcing $4 billion in new loans available to companies developing renewable energy technologies – the first new allocation for renewable energy since the 2009 stimulus funds.
That’s it for this week! If you simply must have one more link, check out this great read last week from Medium: “The Great Recession was an Oil Crisis,” making the case that the 2008 housing bubble was fundamentally the result of several decades of cheap oil. And as always, check out the inimitable Pat’s Picks for all the stories I missed, and all the smart analysis my travel-weary brain couldn’t muster.