Introducing the Risk Committee
It’s a Thursday so I must be on the road… this time I’m writing from New York City, where I was fortunate enough to attend the Ceres Investment Summit on Climate Risk at the UN yesterday. There were many incredible and inspiring speeches at this event, which you can watch here. For me, the highlight (OK, the entire reason I took a redeye to be there, I admit it) was hearing Tom Steyer and Bob Rubin talk about the importance of understanding and acting to curb climate risk. Messrs. Rubin and Steyer were there on behalf of the Risky Business initiative, which now has a full Risk Committee in place to ask the question of what economic costs the U.S. may be facing from catastrophic climate change. It’s a great group, and includes (in addition to co-chairs Steyer, Michael Bloomberg, and Hank Paulson) such luminaries as Henry Cisneros, Gregory Page, Robert Rubin, George Shultz, Donna Shalala, Olympia Snowe, and Al Sommer. You can see more on the RB website, including the Risk Committee members’ own words describing why they joined the project.
One of the best things about Risky Business is that we’ll be able to show climate risk not only for the U.S. as a whole, but also for specific regions and states, including California. Our final results will be out in June and I’ll talk about them ad nauseum then. In the meantime, here’s what’s happening in the Golden State I call home:
- The budget: Sacramento is still abuzz over Governor Brown’s recently-announced draft budget proposal. Speaking of climate risk, the Governor’s budget invests serious funds in addressing ongoing California’s water crisis, now likely to be declared an actual emergency. The proposal allocates a total of $619 million to California’s Water Action Plan, which addresses water conservation, expanded storage capacity, increased flood protection, and regional integration of water planning. But in a move that has puzzled and angered some advocates, the budget does not renew last year’s $3 million allocation to help the California Coastal Commission plan for rising sea levels (for those of you with E&E News access, here’s a good summary article on the subject). Let’s hope this doesn’t stand as a decision to choose adaptation planning over long-term climate change mitigation.
- Prop 39: I wrote about Prop 39 last week but neglected to mention that the budget allocation for the entire program is less than it was last year, meaning the state Franchise Tax Board must think corporate tax revenues will be lower this year. I’m still trying to figure out what’s behind that decision, so let me know if you have any intel to share. Meanwhile, schools are now starting to apply for the second round of P39 funds for efficiency and renewable energy project planning.
- Purple Alert: Those of you who live in the Central Valley know the air quality can be bad—so bad that some schools put up flags to indicate to parents that it’s a “red alert” day, when students shouldn’t play outside. But now the air is so bad on some days that the Bakersfield School District has had to call a “purple alert,” meaning a ban on all outdoor activity other than moving between classrooms. That’s serious. It’s why I continue to be so focused on getting schools in these parts of California to be as energy efficient and as healthy as possible, and also on providing access to cleaner and more efficient vehicle options for rural Californians who are, unfortunately, dependent on their cars for their everyday activities. My new resolution for 2014: no more purple alerts!
Though it sometimes seems that California is in its own universe, we’re actually part of a broader nation. Here’s the news from our nation’s capital:
- The budget: The good news is that it looks like we’ll actually have a federal budget this year. But the meat on the bones of that budget is pretty mixed (minced?) when it comes to energy and climate. Here are some key points from the $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill:
- Limits to administration authority to clean up coal: As Bloomberg BNA reports, most of the proposed anti-climate riders—including language that would have undermined the administration’s ability to regulate vehicle and power plant emissions—did not make it into the omnibus bill. But the fight isn’t even close to over: just this morning, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell filed a formal challenge under the Congressional Review Act to the EPA’s ability to regulate existing coal-fired power plants. Statement here.
- Limits to light bulbs: The bill includes a rider stopping implementation of the administration’s light bulb efficiency standards, which have had a target on their backs since they were passed in 2007. This may be only a symbolic victory for the GOP; most analysts believe it will have little impact on the operations of American light bulb manufacturers, who have already largely shifted away from the least efficient incandescent technology. But it could undercut their market share: ACEEE’s Steven Nadel writes that this move could easily lead to more importation of cheap, inefficient bulbs from countries without strong light bulb standards.
- Some good news on L.A. transportation: The LA Times reports that the omnibus bill will provide $130 million in federal funding for light rail and subway projects in Los Angeles—plans that Next Generation highlighted in a recent report on LA’s low-carbon transportation progress. There’s no funding for CA’s high speed rail in the bill, though—however, a GOP bid to completely end that project did not make it into the final omnibus language. The HSR project isn’t only controversial in Washington: there were probably ten articles last week in California papers taking one or the other side on this issue. Here are some samples from the Mercury News, Sac Bee, and SF Chronicle for your reading pleasure.
As always, if you want a more extensive take on how the media is covering climate and energy issues, check out Pat’s Picks. And if you want more in-depth coverage of the day to day shenanigans in Sacramento, I always recommend Scott Lay’s The Nooner (for those of you in D.C., this is like the Playbook for Californians).
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the long weekend as you remember these immortal words from Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."