During his fourth inaugural address just three months ago, California Governor Jerry Brown announced an ambitious new plan to address the impacts of climate change in California over the next 15 years. The groundbreaking plan proposed to increase from thirty-three to fifty percent the amount of electricity derived from renewable sources, reduce the petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to fifty percent, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner. While the plan itself was ambitious, at the time it was proposed it did not include specifics. Those specifics have now been unveiled in the California State Senate.

The legislative proposal to implement Governor Brown’s ambitious new plan was recently released by California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon. As part of a four bill package entitled “California Climate Leadership—Powering the New Economy,” Senator de Leon and his colleagues in the Senate have compiled a suite of proposals which, if enacted, would continue California on a pioneering path to nationwide climate leadership. On the new website launched in support of the legislative effort—focus.senate.ca.gov/climate—Senator de Leon proudly declares that “California sets climate goals and accomplishes them with a positive impact on the economy and our health. Let’s continue showing the world how it’s done.”

Specifically, the 2015 California climate leadership package includes four separate pieces of legislation: 

  • Senate Bill 32 (SB 32), which was introduced by Senator Fran Pavley in early December 2014 prior to the Governor’s inaugural address, would amend part of the landmark California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (known as AB 32) to require the State Air Resources Board to approve a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit that is equivalent to eighty percent below California’s 1990 levels. This new emissions limit would be required to be achieved by the year 2050. SB 32 would also permit the state board to approve new interim greenhouse gas emissions level targets to be achieved by 2030 and 2040.

    The bill also includes legislative intent language indicating that it is desired that the Legislature and appropriate state agencies will adopt complementary policies that ensure long-term emissions reductions and advance job growth and local economic benefits, public health benefits, innovation in technology and energy, water, and resource management practices, and regional and international collaboration to adopt similar greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies.

  • In contrast to the simplicity and brevity of SB 32, its sister legislation Senate Bill 350 (SB 350) (introduced on February 24, 2015 by Senator de Leon and Senator Mark Leno and co-authored by Senators Loni Hancock and Bill Monning), is a complex and lengthy bill which would set new standards for California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), reduce petroleum use, and increase energy efficiency in existing buildings. SB 350 is the legislative vehicle for implementation of the Governor’s “50-50-50” benchmarks.

    Entitled the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015, SB 350 would modify the existing RPS program to require that by January 1, 2017, the California Public Utilities Commission establish the quantity of electricity products from eligible renewable energy resources to be procured by each retail seller to ensure that the procurement of electricity products from eligible renewable energy resources achieves fifty percent of retail sales by December 31, 2030.

    SB 350 would also require the State Air Resources Board to adopt and implement various standards related to emissions from motor vehicles in furtherance of achieving a reduction in petroleum use in motor vehicles of fifty percent by January 1, 2030. The reduction in petroleum use would be implemented using existing laws and financial resources, and would be linked to existing legislative policy to exploit all practicable and cost-effective conservation and improvements in the efficiency of energy use and distribution, and to achieve energy security, diversity of supply sources, and competitiveness of transportation energy markets based on the least environmental and economic costs.

    With respect to energy efficiency in buildings, SB 350 proposes to meet Governor Brown’s goal of doubling the energy efficiency of existing buildings through the use of existing energy efficiency retrofit funding and regulatory tools administered by the California Energy Commission (CEC). Whereas current law requires the CEC to establish a regulatory proceeding to develop and implement a comprehensive program to achieve greater energy savings in California’s existing residential and nonresidential building stock and to periodically update criteria for the program, SB 350 would require the CEC to adopt an update to the program by January 1, 2017 in furtherance of achieving a doubling of energy efficiency in buildings by January 1, 2030.

  • Senate Bill 189 (SB 189) would establish the Clean Energy and Low-Carbon Economic and Jobs Growth Blue Ribbon Committee. Introduced by Senator Ben Hueso on February 9, 2015, SB 189 would create a new committee comprised of 7 members appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Senate Committee on Rules. The committee would advise California state agencies on the most effective ways to expend clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions related funds and implement policies in order to maximize California’s economic and employment benefit, and would be required to provide an annual update to the Governor and the Legislature on its activities.
  • Also introduced in February 2015, Senate Bill 185 (SB 185) would enact the Public Divestiture of Thermal Coal Companies Act and would require the board of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) to divest the public employee retirement funds of any investments in thermal coal companies and prohibit additional or new investments or the renewal of existing investments in thermal coal companies. Authored by Senator de Leon, the bill would also require any existing CalPERS or CalSTRS investments in thermal coal companies to be liquidated.

All four senate bills that are part of the climate leadership package are currently pending in the California Senate, and have been referred to various standing policy committees for review and public input. Based on the legislative calendar for 2015, it is anticipated that the various policy committees will complete their work on these four bills by the end of May 2015, with additional consideration by the full state Senate to occur in June 2015. The last day for each house to pass bills this year is September 11, 2015, meaning that significant work on and possible amendments to these bills will occur throughout the summer months. Stay connected to ongoing developments with the climate leadership package through the California Legislature’s website at www.legislature.ca.gov.

This article was originally published in Environmental Leader, March 18, 2015.