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PD Editorial: California must pursue climate and energy needs

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

Gov. Gavin Newsom pitched an aggressive climate agenda to legislators last week. There’s much to like in it but translating his goals into reality won’t be easy.

The state isn’t just at the forefront of climate action; it’s also at the forefront of consequences. A yearslong drought, record high temperatures seemingly every year and worsening wildfires all plague California and provide a taste of what’s to come as the world warms. Now researchers even warn that a cataclysmic flood that drowns much of the state could occur in the next few decades.

California won’t prevent any of that alone, but it can be a leader.

Newsom wants to establish in law that the state will have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2045. Getting there will include having all retail electricity sales come from clean sources. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any emissions, but whatever emissions there are would be offset by carbon reduction measures such as capture and sequestration.

Along the way, the state faces an existing 2030 deadline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels. Newsom would bump that up to 55%.

The governor’s climate proposals also include steps to protect homes, schools and parks from oil wells and to create a regulatory framework for carbon removal and capture.

Certainly, the Legislature, even with only a few weeks left before the scheduled end of its session, can act on the aspirational portions of Newsom’s plan. If they accept stronger targets for greenhouse gas reduction that are years out, the policy and spending decisions can happen later. They have an opportunity to provide guidance for those decisions when it comes to greenhouse gas reduction.

Some of the concrete — and therefore controversial — ideas, like limiting where oil wells can be cited, might be harder to push through in a few weeks. Even if they can’t happen this year, lawmakers could lay the groundwork for decisions in 2023.

No matter what happens with Newsom’s proposal, California still has an energy crunch.

This week could prove to be a critical stress test for the state’s electrical grid. High temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees across much of the state. If air conditioners suck too much power, rolling blackouts might occur. That’s the last thing Newsom wants as he raises his profile for a possible presidential run.

The state’s green energy infrastructure simply is not ready to meet demand yet. So the governor has suggested extending the life of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant and even giving PG&E a sweetheart deal on a loan. It’s not an ideal solution, but it might be the best option as an interim means to maximize energy production during the transition to a greener future. Even some oil and natural gas production might need to be part of the mix.

Setting aspirational targets is easy. Developing and implementing strategies to reach them is hard. Make no mistake: Newsom’s proposals are about burnishing his green credentials for a national audience as well as about helping California. The real test will be how he sells tough policy decisions to the public in the next couple of years to meet his proposed greenhouse gas reduction goals.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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