California Is One of the Greenest States

“As California goes, so goes the nation,” declares an old political saying. If that is true than the U.S. will eventually have much more ambitious laws to address climate change and the majority of Americans will support them.

The majority of Californians view the environment as something to protect. A poll in July found that most Californians see climate change as a serious threat and do not think that action to address it will lead to less jobs. Two out of three state residents support California’s ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals. 

Californians reside in one of the “greenest” states., a resource that helps consumers find the right energy plan, looked at which states are the greenest, and the Golden State topped several lists, including reusing and electric vehicles (EVs). California has almost half of all the nation’s plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). The state offers rebates of up to $2,500 for EVs running on only a charge and $1,500 for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).

“Reusing is all the rage for eco-conscious Americans,” declares Save On Energy. That is especially true for Californians, and California’s recycling law helps drive reusing in the state. Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature set a goal of 75 percent recycling, composting or source reduction of solid waste by 2020. In order to reach the 75 percent goal, 23 million more tons will need to be either recycled, reduced or composted in 2020, based on an estimated 80 million tons of solid waste that will be generated in 2020. 

California has the most ambitious GHG emissions reduction goals in North America. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) requires the state to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Governor Brown increased that level in April to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent under 1990 levels by 2050. 

Brown’s executive order which increased the GHG emissions reduction goal cites the “ever-growing threat” to Californians of climate change including “loss of snowpack, drought, sea level rise, more frequent and intense wildfires, heat waves, more severe smog, and harm to natural and working lands.” The truth is that California has been on the front lines of climate change impacts. Despite the increased rains that the el nino weather pattern has brought this rain season, California is in the midst of its fourth year of drought. Snowpack and reservoir levels have been at an all time low. So, it is only natural that California would have such an ambitious emissions reduction goal. 

There are two key ways that California plans to reduce its GHG emissions: through increased renewable energy use and setting a price on carbon. The state’s renewable portfolio standard, established in 2002, is one of the nation’s most ambitious, requiring electricity providers to increase their share of renewable energy use to 33 percent by 2020. 

California’s cap-and-trade program took effect in 2013 and apply to large electric power plants, large industrial plants and fuel distributors, and encompass almost 85 percent of the state’s total GHG emissions. It uses an approach similar to the EU’s emission trading system to reduce GHG emissions. Given that California is the ninth largest economy in the world, its cap-and-trade program provides an example of how an economy-wide cap-and-trade system will work in the U.S. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, California’s emissions trading system will reduce GHG emissions from sectors under it by over 16 percent from 2013 to 2020.

Photo: Flickr/the_tahoe_guy