Battle Shaping Up Between Sacramento and Washington Over Climate Action

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — In what might be shaping up to be the fight of the century, with nothing less than the future of life on this planet at stake, we have the 2017 battle over climate change. In one corner, we have Jerry Brown, lawyer, veteran politician, and the longest serving governor in California’s history. In the other corner, is Donald J. Trump, real estate developer and reality TV star.

In defiance of the consensus of hundreds of the world’s top scientists, Trump has ridiculed climate change, suggesting that it is a non-issue, manufactured by liberals, despite the fact that even the US Department of Defense (not exactly known as a liberal institution), in a report to the Senate Appropriations Committee, considers it “a significant risk to U.S. interests globally.”

Trump seems to be surrounding himself with climate-deniers, including Scott Pruitt, a self-proclaimed enemy of environmental regulation, to head the EPA; former Texas governor and oil man, Rick Perry, as Secretary of Energy; and Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

Brown, on the other hand, just appointed Kathleen Kenealy to replace Kamala Harris as acting state Attorney General, after Harris was elected to the Senate. Kenealy had previously served in the state’s Natural Resources Division and fought to enforce regulations on motor vehicle carbon emissions.

Brown has made his position clear, saying that, “California can make a significant contribution to advancing the cause of dealing with climate change, irrespective of what goes on in Washington. I wouldn’t underestimate California’s resolve if everything moves in this extreme climate denial direction. Yes, we will take action.”

What might be at stake in this battle is the position of torch bearer on the climate issue for the rest of the world to follow. While a number of European countries, and more recently, China, are stepping up as role models, much to the benefit of their economies, California has been right up there with them. The state, which if it were a country, would be among the 10 largest economically, has a long history of strong environmental protection. Their mandate, to reduce carbon emissions in California to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, is among the most aggressive. The state is still in the throes of a six-year drought which has been exacerbated by global warming.

Brown has already signaled that he is willing to work directly with other governments, circumventing Washington, much as Trump has already done as president-elect.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump wants to lead his parade in the opposite direction. Some of Governor Brown’s strongest allies include scientists like Ben Santer, who has spent his entire career at Lawrence Livermore National Lab studying the phenomenon of climate change and was among those sounding the alarm early on. In a few weeks’ time, Trump will be Santer’s boss, with a chain of command passing through Rick Perry’s office.

Echoing the concerns of many environmentalists, Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the NY Times, “They can do a lot of damage in a short period of time.”

Michael Mann, the well-known atmospheric sciences professor at Penn State, expressed concern that both support for climate science and respect for its findings, “will simultaneously evaporate in an anti-science presidential administration.”

Santer appears a bit more sanguine. He suggested to the LA Times that, “Maybe there are people in the new administration who are willing to sit down and be educated and have a conversation. I have to hope that there are those people.”

Noted renewable energy pundit Amory Lovins seems to think that might be true. He told a group of supporters of Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room last week that “Rick Perry presided over the free market policies that made Texas the national leader in wind power. He understands that wind can beat gas.” He also sat on a panel with Rex Tillerson some years back and said that Tillerson agreed with him about getting rid of subsidies for all energy sources, including oil and gas—allowing them to compete on their own merits. Fossil fuels currently receive about four times as many subsidies as renewables, which are, in some cases, already beating them on cost in spite of that.

In may be that issue of cost that has the final say in the end. Ideology or no, there is no disputing the fact that once renewables are built, their operating costs are extremely low and will remain so for 20 years or more.

Failing that, however, Governor Brown has thrown down the gauntlet in proclaiming that California is ready to fight. The state senate stands with him. Kevin de Leon, the leader of the State Senate, has said, “California more than ever is strongly committed to moving forward on our climate leadership. We will not deviate from our leadership because of one election.”

The state has a long history of environmental advocacy and has clearly demonstrated, contrary to the claims of Mr. Trump and his supporters, that environmental regulations and economic prosperity can get along just fine.

Image source: iStock