California Legislature Approves 5 of 6 Big Climate Crisis Bills

PUBLISHED SEP 2, 2022 12:00 A.M.
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The state will dramatically accelerate clean-energy adoption following the passage of SB 1020, authored by Santa Cruz’s Sen. John Laird.

The state will dramatically accelerate clean-energy adoption following the passage of SB 1020, authored by Santa Cruz’s Sen. John Laird.   Photo by Geoff Hardy, Shutterstock

By NADIA LOPEZ, CalMatters

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s last-minute legislative plan for tackling the climate crisis was largely victorious as lawmakers approved laws to set interim targets for 100% clean energy, regulate projects to remove carbon from the atmosphere and smokestacks, and end new oil drilling near communities.

One ambitious bill for tackling climate change, however, was shot down by the Assembly: AB 2133 – which would have ramped up goals for reducing greenhouse gases — failed at the last minute.

Five of the six climate and energy bills pushed by Newsom made it to his desk. He now has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto them. 

“This was a very big and historic win. It has taken this state decades to get to this point,” said Sen. Monique Limón, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, who authored SB 1137, a bill that requires setbacks around new oil and gas wells and steps to protect residents at old wells.

The moves by the Legislature come as California is experiencing the dire effects of climate change. Higher temperatures and extreme heat waves, more frequent and prolonged drought and severe wildfires are plaguing the state, straining the state’s power grid, threatening the environment and posing risks to vulnerable communities. 

Newsom, who is up for re-election and in the final stretch of his first term, urged the Legislature with only about three weeks left in the session to pass the six proposals and approve $54 billion in spending for his climate initiatives. Before that, lawmakers said he had mostly stayed quiet on their bills and hadn’t backed them.

‘[This bill] is a regressive mandate that will hit those at the lower end of the income spectrum the hardest.’
Kevin Slagle, Western States Petroleum Association

Here are the bills:

Tackling greenhouse gas emissions

Several controversial bills aiming to cut emissions and help California transition to renewable energy were among top priorities debated by the Legislature Wednesday.

AB 1279 codifies the state’s existing goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. Carbon neutrality means a balance between the carbon added to the atmosphere and the carbon removed.

But a more aggressive pace of cutting greenhouse gases failed in the Assembly. AB 2133 would have set California’s target at 55% below the state’s 1990 emissions, up from the current 40% target. Some legislators said setting a more aggressive goal was unrealistic when the state is not on track to meet the existing one and it was too fast of a pace that would put people in the oil and gas industries out of work.

California enacted another greenhouse gas bill, AB 32, in 2006, requiring the state to set a target for emissions to drop to 1990 levels by 2020. As with the discussion Wednesday about the new bill, that bill was criticized at the time for not having a clear plan. But then the state took steps to achieve its goal earlier than the law required.

Nevertheless, just before midnight, the new bill couldn’t garner enough support and fell four Assembly votes short of the 41 that it needed to pass. 

California’s fight against climate change requires a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the elimination of fossil fuels. Planet-warming gases – carbon dioxide, methane and other smog-forming pollutants –  trap heat in the atmosphere, exacerbating severe weather events and causing global changes in temperature and precipitation. 

While environmentalists applauded many of the measures, many groups have also criticized Newsom for not acting faster to phase out fossil fuels and cut emissions.

The oil and gas industry also lobbied heavily against Newsom’s climate initiatives, criticizing them as “too aggressive.” 

‘The opponents will always tell you that “it’s impossible.” California has a pretty good track record of knocking the impossible on its tuchus.
Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Los Angeles

“This is an extraordinarily aggressive goal that would require large-scale transformation of California’s entire economy,” said Kevin Slagle, a spokesperson for the Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group representing the oil industry. “It is a regressive mandate that will hit those at the lower end of the income spectrum the hardest.”

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat from Los Angeles, laid out for his colleagues the contentious measure that didn’t pass, taking them through a painstaking recounting of the climate change policy accomplishments California has already achieved.

“Opponents will tell you that we are moving the goalpost. We are,” he said. “The opponents will always tell you that ‘it’s impossible,’ that we will never get there. California has a pretty good track record of knocking the impossible on its tuchus.” 

Republicans in both chambers shot down the measures.

Sen. Brian Dahle, a Republican from Bieber who is also running for governor, was one of the most outspoken opponents of the bills that are Newsom’s climate priorities. As he had done all day in response to the bills, Dahle bemoaned the lack of details in the legislation, questioning if those goals were achievable and how they could be accomplished.

Dahle mocked the approach of the bills, adding that without a more detailed plan, passing the bills would be like “setting a target, taking victory lap, waving your magic wand and sprinkling some pixie dust.” 

Clean energy ramp-up

Authored by Sen. John Laird, a Democrat from Santa Cruz, SB 1020 sets interim targets for generating clean energy. A current law already requires 100% of retail electricity to be fueled by renewables such as wind and solar by 2045. The new law would add 90% by 2035 and 95% by 2040. In addition, all state agencies must source their energy from 100% renewable sources by 2035, ten years sooner than law now requires. 

The question remains, however, if California’s electrical grid can handle the surge in energy demand. 

Slagle, of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the governor’s approach was flawed and ignores the reality of the grid’s volatile reliability. 

Read more of ‘California Legislature approves climate change steps, but one ambitious one fails’ on CalMatters. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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