It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done
This will be my last Cliffnotes of 2013, which of course makes me want to come up with all kinds of Top 10 lists for the year, and wise reflections on what did happen, could have happened, and needs to happen next year.
I am, however, too lazy to do that kind of review. And why should I, when the Washington Post just put out a “Top 10 Best of 2013 Lists of 2013”—a list that, for those who want to take it up a notch, includes as #1 Rolling Stone’s “20 Best Lists of 2013”? The mind boggles. Bringing us all back to earth, Real Clear Policy has a nice piece on “2013’s Four Best Climate Change Stories”, one of which is – hurrah! – the fact that “California’s Cap-and-Trade Program is Working.” I’m also enamored of the Center for Green Schools’ “Best of Green Schools 2013” list, which includes a very nice mention of Proposition 39 as the “Best Moment for the Movement.”
Speaking of Proposition 39, I’m headed up to Sacramento today for the California Energy Commission’s Business Meeting, where the CEC plans to vote on the P39 funding guidelines. The meeting (agenda here) starts at 10 a.m. and I fully expect to see all you northern California readers there before you head off on vacation. It’s a chance to see our state government invest $550 million into energy efficiency, after all who would want to miss that?
One of the major recipients of Prop 39 funds will, of course, be Los Angeles county – the largest school district in the state. L.A. is the focus of a new piece up on our website, Combating Climate Change in the Capital of Car Culture, which was written for us by Varun Sivaram, former advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, on the City’s transformative transportation policies. In the report, Varun points to L.A. as an unlikely model for reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector in California, an issue I’ve lately become obsessed with, as many of you know.
That’s the good news about California. Here are some of the more difficult challenges we face going into 2014:
- Water: As the L.A. Times editorial board soberly tells us this week, we have to face some “hard truths” here in California when it comes to our diminishing water supply. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta tunnel project, draft plans for which were unveiled last week, is an attempt to balance the state’s water demands with critical habitat conservation. But the tunnels, even if they’re built, won’t solve our water shortage. The fact is that we simply don’t have enough water. Moreover, as the Sac Bee’s Dan Walters writes, many meteorologists believe that climate change will reduce our winter snowfall and increase our rainfall, meaning that we may have to focus our attention not on moving water, but on adequately storing it for later use.
- Oil: This week Next Generation’s co-founder Tom Steyer launched a new campaign aimed at educating the public – and legislators elected by that public – on the need for California to pass an oil severance tax. As I’ve written before, California is currently the 4th largest oil producing state, and the only one that doesn’t charge oil producers to pull this valuable resource out of the ground. Michael Hiltzik of the L.A. Times did a beautiful job of laying out the issues behind oil severance the other day, particularly in his debunking of the argument that levying a severance tax will raise gas prices. As Hiltzik writes, “The oil market is integrated on a global scale — producers and refiners can't charge higher prices for the same grade of crude based on where they're located because they'd be undercut by the world market.”
- More oil: Just how much oil is currently being pulled out of the ground here in California, you ask? Unfortunately, we’ve spent decades in the dark on that question. Only with the passage of the recent fracking bill, SB4, does California now ask producers to file information about “well stimulation”. Early filings can be found here, on the CA Department of Conservation website.
- And … even more oil: Providing information is one thing, but following the law is another – a truth that was reinforce this week as the U.S. EPA gave Chevron a major slap on the wrist, telling the company that it might face fines of $37,500 for every day it neglects to address over 60 regulatory violations that EPA has discovered since the Richmond refinery fire last year.
- Cap and trade accounting: We’re all thrilled that the cap and trade program is working so well. Now we have to figure out where to target the revenues. But first, we have to figure out how to get those revenues back: Last week, a diverse coalition of environmental and business groups sent a letter to Governor Brown asking him to repay the more than $500 million borrowed from the greenhouse gas reduction fund during the budget process earlier this year. At the time, the Department of Finance claimed that more time was needed to identify the most effective way to invest these funds, and in the meantime parked them in the general fund. With the state’s strongest financial outlook in years, there’s no longer any excuse for not putting those dollars to work reducing emissions. For those of you with E&E News access, Debra Kahn has the story.
- Washington: Just because no energy legislation can get passed by Congress doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. This week, Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus proposed a sweeping tax measure that would reform a score of existing tax breaks for energy (both dirty and clean) and consolidate these into two programs: an incentive program for cleaner electricity (including both a production and an investment tax credit), and another for cleaner fuel. Notably, the proposal includes reductions in both oil and gas production subsidies, as well as in incentives for electric cars and green buildings. It’s a sweeping set of reforms and worthy of serious discussion. But now that Senator Baucus has been tapped as the next ambassador to China, it remains to be seen how hard he’ll push this package through the Senate in the remainder of his term.
That’s it for tonight – and that’s it for 2013! I’m taking the next two weeks off and will return to Cliffnotes during the week of January 6. Have a wonderful winter break, everyone, and a happy New Year. And in everything you do, remember these immortal words from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”