BY GRANT BONHAM
President Trump’s scandalous and unorthodox leadership has distracted news headlines from the irreparable environmental damage that will result from his policies over the next four years. The president’s ignorance of environmental issues on the campaign trail has manifested in real policy with his recent threats to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. President Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, spent his much of his career as Oklahoma’s attorney general suing the EPA so large oil and gas companies can drill and spill freely across the state. But as the White House continues to deny scientific evidence, California has remained committed to green energy and has continued to set the standard for effective environmental protection.
California solidified its position at the forefront of progressive environmentalism when President Pro Tempore Kevin De León proposed Senate Bill 100. This bill, designed to build upon already aggressive environmental policies, commits California’s energy portfolio to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. If approved, this bill would make California the second state, next to Hawaii, to commit to a no-emissions goal before 2046.
For the sixth largest economy in the world, California’s goal is ambitious. It opposes climate deniers in the White House and commits a commercial and industrial state to policies that will affect energy prices and growth. Skepticism about such a goal is warranted, but the grandeur of a 100 percent reduction in emissions is more attainable than the policy suggests. California tracks its total renewable energy consumption through its Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which account for the amount of energy sold by the California Energy Commission to buyers across the state. Established in 2002, the RPS had an ambitious goal: renewable energy taking up 20 percent of the portfolio’s sales by 2017. Energy output per dollar from photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines began to outpace projections in 2006, meaning the RPS’s goals were quickly being surpassed. As a result, Senate Bill 350 in 2015 set the goal of renewable energy taking up 50 percent of the portfolio’s sales by 2030. In 2016, the market for renewable resources reached a new standard, with the average cost of solar power production dropping lower than fossil fuels. It is ironic, then, that the California government has failed to quickly implement renewable energy, particularly as costs for renewable resources have dropped below the price of fossil fuels in most parts of the world. Regardless, because renewable energy costs have decreased, California’s 2016 RPS is ahead of schedule at 27 percent of all energy produced. While wind production currently makes up the largest share of California’s RPS, the 27 percent price drop of solar power since 2015 has made it the fastest growing energy sector in the state. Increased use of solar and wind power indicates that the state is already on track to reach the goal of 100 percent renewables. Further, decreasing costs of renewable energy will only help the state reach that goal.
Opposition to this bill will likely be low. California’s Democratic Party dominance means that Republicans will have little say in passing these regulations. In addition, Senate Bill 100 is not a mandate, meaning that if energy companies fail to meet this goal, there will be no repercussions. Because the bill lacks binding language, it should sway moderate Democrats who fear the state is overcommitting itself.
This bill, however, is significant not in its implementation, but in the radical response to President Trump. Senate Bill 100 has no tangible or explicit purpose in this legislative session. California is already far ahead of its previous environmental goals and Senate Bill 100 has no mandate. While the goal of 100 percent renewables seems ambitious, the changing renewable market makes it easier than ever to implement such a strategy. The timing and goal make up a symbolic opposition to show President Trump that his philosophy on business and the environment are entirely wrong. By proposing this bill, the rising Senator De León is taking aim at the president, trying to prove that these policies are not only passable, but that they are cost effective, create jobs and provide a modern energy infrastructure with no emissions. This move by León, the leader of the California Senate, shows that resistance to President Trump runs deep within the state.