Back in September, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that introduces truly radical levels of climate change policy. The legislation signed by the governor requires the state to cut emissions at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and invest in the communities hardest hit by climate change.
“Climate change is real, and knowing that, California is taking action,” said Governor Brown. “SB 32 and AB 197 are far-reaching moves that continue California on its path of vast innovation and environmental resilience.”
But that was then.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that a Trump presidency might not be the biggest hurdle to the program. While the cap and trade program rebounded, with more than 88 percent of the current-year permits purchased by companies, the Chronicle reports “the main issues plaguing cap and trade in California have nothing to do with Trump.”
“A long-running lawsuit filed by the California Chamber of Commerce seeks to have the system declared an illegal business tax that should have required a two-thirds vote of the legislature to take effect. Oral arguments in the case, first filed in 2012, are scheduled to begin in January,” the paper reports. “Critics of the program, as well as the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, have argued that the system does not have legal authority to proceed past 2020.”
Governor Brown has worked to extend the system past 2020, but the Chronicle notes that “he set a high bar, trying to line up the support of two thirds of legislators, in case the Chamber of Commerce won its suit. Republicans and business-friendly Democrats balked.”
They add, “And yet, cap and trade scored a partial victory in Sacramento when the legislature passed SB32, which requires the state to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The bill, quickly signed into law by Brown, does not spell out how California should cut its emissions. But the cap and trade system, already running, would be one logical choice.”
The bigger fight is at the national and even the international level.
Trump softened his stance on climate change in an interview with the NY Times this past week. The Times reports that he “refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris.”
Sounding more like a politician, he said, “I’m looking at it closely.” The Times reports, “Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.”
While the president-elect has noted his unabashed disdain for climate change policy, at times using heated rhetoric like “bs” and “hoax,” while threatening to defund the Environmental Protection Agency and bring back the flagging coal industry, he has walked that talk back.
Still, as the LA Times points out: “Environmentalists take little comfort in Trump’s recent comments that he accepts “there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate change and that he has an open mind about it, as what he’s said elsewhere and done so far suggests otherwise.”
The Times points out that those walked-back comments “gave scientists cause for alarm.”
“You can make a lot of cases for different views,” Mr. Trump told the New York Times, casting doubt on the finding by more than 90 percent of climate scientists that emissions are accelerating global warming. “I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”
The world is moving forward without the US which, as the Times points out, puts him “on a collision course with the rest of the world, much of his own country and even some in his own party than his stated desire to abandon the fight against global warming.”
Donald Trump will be about the only head of state who does not believe in climate science or the responsibility of his government to act,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, which signed up more members in the week after Trump won the election than during the rest of 2016 combined. “This makes the Bush-Cheney administration look like it came from an environmental training camp.”
The Times points out, “Trump may be picking a tougher fight than he knows. The last time the White House made the kind of retreat Trump envisions – when President Bush walked away from the Kyoto protocol in 2001 – the policy landscape of climate change was drastically different.”
Part of the problem is, “Much of the action on climate change in this country no longer plays out in federal agencies but at local commissions enforcing laws in 29 states that push public utilities to go green. Their mandates are to encourage investment in cleaner plants and technology development.”
Most of the major US trading partners have signed onto the 200-nation accord in Paris, and experts believe, “Bailing on the deal could also increase the influence of China, itself once a chief climate pariah and now a green-energy powerhouse and lead instigator of international climate agreements. Trump is poised to create a leadership vacuum in the fight against climate change that would only expand Beijing’s reach, Chinese officials say.”
Will that be enough? The Times notes, “None of those potential consequences faze the free-market think tanks urging Trump to go rogue. Just weeks ago, these groups were on the lonely fringe, pursuing an agenda written off as wacky by the mainstream science community, but now find themselves helping drive policy at the highest levels.”
“We disagree with President Obama that climate change is the end-all and we ought to reorient the global economy around this phenomenon,” said William Yeatman, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
That seems to be the biggest problem we have here. Donald Trump may be moderating some of his views, but he has surrounded himself with people who have anything but temperate views. And he lacks the policy expertise to be able to push back – perhaps.
That part remains to be seen.
—David M. Greenwald reporting