When California legislators went home to their districts for their summer recess in mid-July, our state was gripped by climate disasters of historic proportions. It still is.
The Dixie Fire became the second-largest single wildfire in California history. Desperately low water levels forced the Oroville hydro-electric plant offline for the first time ever, giving Californians even more reason to list drought as their top climate concern. And severely limited water supply will force food prices higher.
These disasters call for California leaders to show unparalleled courage in confronting the climate crisis — and the big oil and gas interests driving it. Instead, key leaders in the state Senate protected a status quo of fossil fuel reliance. Not coincidentally, three Democrats — Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg of Los Angeles, Energy Chair Ben Hueso of San Diego and President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego — together raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from oil and gas interests over their careers.
Atkins failed to make the climate crisis a priority as the chamber’s leader, and her committee assignments gave Big Oil a bigger voice in policy making, appointing Hueso, Hertzberg and other oil allies to influential positions in the Senate. Hueso and Hertzberg then used this power to obstruct crucial legislation to keep drilling pollution away from marginalized neighborhoods and to phase out production of oil and gas (Senate Bill 467).
Then, Atkins allowed the industry to block and delay every significant climate bill in the Senate from advancing, including legislation to require large corporations to report their total greenhouse gas emissions (Senate Bill 260) and to transition buildings to cleaner, electric energy (Senate Bill 31).
Senate leaders need to deliver for Californians who are worried about the impact of the climate crisis on our water and air, protecting our homes from wildfires and the resilience of our food and energy supply. Breaking corporate polluters’ grip on Sacramento is the only way we will solve the climate crisis.
Just last week, the United Nations issued a “code red for humanity” after a team of international scientists warned climate change is happening more rapidly and will lead to greater humanitarian disasters than previous predictions. Sharply cutting carbon pollution by immediately replacing oil and gas with clean energy is the only way to avoid even greater catastrophe.
As legislators reconvene in Sacramento, Atkins, Hueso and Hertzberg must put protecting Californians and our future from climate disaster at the top of their agenda. Democrats must commit to these three priorities going forward in 2021:
▪ Transition our buildings to run on clean energy. Buildings account for nearly 40% of fossil fuel consumption; transforming our heating and cooking systems to run on clean, electric energy can make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions.
▪ Hold corporate polluters accountable. A landmark 2017 report found 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global climate emissions. To reach our greenhouse gas reduction goals, California must require corporations to report and reduce their carbon emissions.
▪ Aggressively phase out fossil fuels extraction and use throughout California, including banning oil drilling that happens dangerously close to homes and schools, to protect the health of communities most at risk. Millions of Californians, primarily low-income people of color, live near dangerous oil and gas extraction sites that threaten their health on a daily basis.
Donald Trump was deservedly criticized by California Democrats for denying the urgency of the climate crisis. But paying lip service to the crisis while refusing to take the bold action needed to slow the alarming warming of the planet will ultimately have the same disastrous effect.
Senate leadership must find the climate courage to lead action that will avoid even greater catastrophe.