It’s very interesting, we have the reputation of having one of the most ambitious energy standards for vehicles. Our governor speaks loudly about a word that opposes that of Trump, concerning the climate. But we want to see much more actions, in particular that our states stop hydraulic fracturing, which is in fact in full development. Just recently, the governor granted new permits for oil and gas extraction on new sites!
California’s environmental and climate policy is therefore not as green as it claims to be. What we are looking for, is to first prevent oil and gas extraction in California from harming communities. In Los Angeles as in San Francisco, the extraction sites for which new permits have been granted, are located very close to schools and homes where the communities live. There is potentially an impact on health… We are calling for a buffer zone between these extraction sites and these places of life, and then we demand a gradual cessation of these existing projects.
Furthermore, poor management of forests in addition to extreme heat, causing violent fires, has been singled out. The forests are poorly maintained, not controlled enough, the visible power lines touch the ground in places. Obviously this encourages the fires! It’s the perfect example of poor environmental management. And here, it’s not gas and oil extraction that is to blame!
The United States is far behind in terms of per capita pollution level
The United States still has an extremely high starting point in terms of per capita pollution levels. It’s roughly twice as much as the average European… Simplifying the figures, it’s 10 tons of CO2 per inhabitant, per year, in Europe and 20 tons in the United States, including California. So it’s easier to reduce when we are at such a high starting point.
That being said, it is true that the environmental policies of states like California are more ambitious than some of the environmental policies in Europe. In California, we no longer build a house without it being obligatory to install solar panels on the roofs, for example… There are objectives in terms of decarbonization of housing, the electricity sector, etc. which are quite ambitious, but quite ambitious in relation to a starting point which, it must be recognized, is initially very bad. Ideally, federal aid would be needed.
The crux of the matter is also financing. California may be the fifth largest economic power in the world in terms of GDP, but it depends on the Federal government to finance its climate and environmental programs. However, the coronavirus crisis and the exceptional scale of forest fires have put a serious damper on the ambitions of its governor. Once again this year, the west coast of the United States was hit by devastating fires, after a summer that broke records for heat and drought.
California has many climate-friendly agricultural programs, for example, in the agricultural sector, the authorities want to make production resilient, reduce their CO2 emissions, explains George Wong, managing director at Oakland Dumpster Rental Bros. But with the violent fires, with the coronavirus crisis, funds have been diverted from these projects. Governor Gavin Newsom, put forward a new plan for California, and we see that certain subsidies intended for the fight against climate change have been cut. Because there are new priorities and there is no longer any money coming from of the federal government.
Some states like Maine and Virginia are trying to generate their own financing system by imposing fines for the benefit of renewables. In Virginia, actors who fail to meet their goals must pay a fine. And this money is paid into professional retraining programs, for workers who are in the coal sector, or in the fossil fuel industry. Ideally, there should be aid from the federal state. Their budget was radically challenged by the pandemic.
0One of the major problems that arises today, and which could be an additional obstacle, independently of the constitutional obstacles, is their economic situation. Their budget was radically challenged by the pandemic. However, most of the time, local authorities are financed by the equivalent of VAT, a consumption tax. Consumption having fallen sharply during the first months of the epidemic, the budgets of States and local communities are very hard hit.
In fact, since the early 1990s, in the United States, more than 600 local governments have developed Climate Action Plans, which set targets for reducing greenhouse gases. And this in reaction to federal excesses in terms of energy and climate policies. Today, have these refractory states achieved their objectives?
According to a recent study conducted by The Brookings Institution, of the 100 largest cities in the United States, only 45 have established greenhouse gas reduction targets.
This concerns around 40 million people. So only 12% of the American population. Of these 45 cities, 13 of them have significantly reduced their CO2 emissions over the last ten years, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington. The other 32 cities fail to achieve their goals. In conclusion, the authors of the study say that the results fall far short of the level of emissions reduction that the IPCC considers necessary to avoid the impacts of climate change.
It is surprising that local actors have not achieved their goals to which they aspired…But the most important thing is the signal they are giving to try to achieve them. They should be evaluated not on the level CO2 emissions, but on what they do and what they plan to do.
To achieve these goals, cooperation between the states and the federal level is required. But many local actors have not had this… Local governments are very important in the long term. Because in the long term, local governments control all land decisions, authorizations, etc. If we want to reorganize American cities in such a way as to favor pedestrians, or make the use of private cars less easy, that will take a long time and local governments are the key players in achieving these results.
For example, in the use of electric cars. A certain number of local governments will impose density rules, means of accessing charging stations… The federal level will evaluate the public utility, determine how companies will be helped to make vehicles available to them. electricity and at what price…. So it really requires cooperation between all levels of government…”
One thing is certain, to carry out its policy on a national scale, the Biden administration will have to deal with the states. Some are more ambitious than others in the fight against climate change, or more resistant to an energy transition because they are more dependent on fossil fuels, with economic issues being a priority.