The usual suspects are advocating the same tired climate policies while California burns. Governor Newsom seemed to echo those same remedies when he used my wildfire-ravaged district as the backdrop to pronounce a “climate damn emergency.”
I humbly suggest that there is a better way to combat both climate change and wildfires.
We hear that we need to fast-track a higher renewable energy standard (RPS) in California. Doing so will substantially increase consumer costs. Right now, Californians pay 55% more in electric bills for green energy. At the same time, 80% of our power is already zero-emission when you count hydro and nuclear power.
However, California policy doesn’t count hydroelectric and nuclear sources as renewable and, in fact, is proposing to shut down Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which provides 10% of our state’s electricity. This will have to be made up with even greater investments in unreliable wind and solar power or by purchasing out-of-state hydro. So how much more should Californians pay for what is already the greenest power in the nation?
We hear calls to make Californians pay even more taxes into the cap-and-trade fund. That fund currently holds billions of dollars and 25% of it is earmarked for High Speed Rail – a project that continues to have financial problems and promises a murky reduction in carbon emissions.
More radical proposals in California include shuttering all natural gas plants, converting all houses from gas heating to electricity, and electrifying our ports. Newsom last week even signed an Executive Order banning the sale of gas-powered vehicles in 2035. In addition to being bad policy, all of this would come at monumental cost to Californians at time when we face economic devastation and the highest poverty rate in the nation. It would also further destabilize our power sources while drastically increasing the electrical demand of our grid: a recipe for major rolling blackouts.
The bottom line is California has done the most to reduce carbon emissions at great cost to its citizens. It is estimated that our carbon policies are already costing the average Californian $1,235 a year. Doubling down on these policies is the wrong approach.
More importantly, not one of these solutions will stop a devastating wildfire from occurring. The 2018 fires alone emitted 45 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, nine times more than we reduced carbon emissions over the past few years.
There is a smarter climate policy: increased investment in forestry management. We took the first steps a few weeks before the fires when Governor Newsom and the Trump Administration announced a new accord with the federal government to do more management on federal public lands. Partnering with the federal government, we can make a major public investment and leverage private partnerships to treat millions of acres of our forested lands.
With this partnership, we can create a tremendous amount of jobs where people really need it. With new technology and legislation pending in Congress by Senators Feinstein and Daines, we can kick start cleaner biomass energy that will sustain our grid while making our forests healthy carbon sinks.
Remember those cap and trade funds? Over the last two years, we have used $250 million a year of cap and trade funds to do more thinning, vegetation removal and prescribed burns. Let’s double or triple that amount this year. The money is there and the Legislative Analyst’s Office has shown that dollar for dollar, it reduces more carbon than other measures we have taken.
It’s not just money we need to invest. We also need to remove regulatory barriers such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which unnecessarily delays or prevent these projects from happening – projects like the one planned for Berry Creek this year before it was wiped out by the Bear Fire.
Let’s make this California’s Wildfire-Climate New Deal, by promoting a comprehensive forestry management strategy that will reduce carbon and protect our communities from wildfire. It’s a better climate policy for all of California.
- A Better Way to Combat Climate Change and Wildfires - October 8, 2020