California Leading on Emissions as Brown Signs New Laws

California Governor Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown, governor of California, says he’s learned after four decades in political office to embrace pragmatism, anticipate challenges long in advance and accept that too many variables exist in any situation to try to ride any one to success. Photographer: Ken James/Bloomberg

California Governor Jerry Brown has a moonshot goal for the world’s eighth-largest economy as he seeks to lead the global fight against climate change: 1.5 million zero-emission cars on state roads in the next decade.

With a month-end deadline approaching, Brown has signed 11 bills related to global warming. The laws add 15,000 permits for clean-air vehicles to use car-pool lanes, give rebates to low-income residents to buy cleaner automobiles, require cities and counties to speed up permits for residential solar-panel installations and require the state to devise a plan to fight short-lived pollutants such as methane.

“He has taken this very much to heart,” Brian Wynne, the president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a Washington-based industry group, said in a telephone interview. “He’s doing what he sees as the right thing for his constituents and also being a leader nationwide.”

Looking forward to an unprecedented fourth term, the 76-year-old chief executive of the most populous U.S. state is increasingly defining his agenda on the world stage by tackling global challenges.

At a United Nations summit today in New York, the governor said California enacted the toughest vehicle emission standards in the U.S. with bipartisan collaboration. Even as advertisements try to persuade people to reject climate regulations, he said, wildfires and drought related to global warming are already causing damage in California.

Mexico Pact

“It’s real,” Brown said. “It’s here.”

Brown signed a bilateral pact with Mexico in July to boost cross-border investments in renewable energy, biofuels and other clean energy technologies. Last year, he traveled to China, the world’s top carbon polluter, and signed an agreement to bolster climate-change cooperation.

In 2011, Brown enacted a law that requires California power companies to obtain at least a third of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2020.

Electric cars such as those made in Fremont, California, by billionaire Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc. are at the forefront of Brown’s initiatives.

“California is the No. 1 buyer of Tesla and every other electric car,” Brown said in a Sept. 5 interview with Bloomberg News. Incentives the state gives residents to encourage them to buy zero-emission vehicles “are cranked into the whole panoply of incentives that we give for climate-change policies.”

Hybrid Cars

The number of hybrid cars in California has grown 110 percent to 709,766 in 2013 from 337,881 in 2009, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. There were 60,988 electric autos registered in the state as of Aug. 31, the DMV said. Nationwide, the number of electric vehicles grew 20.5 percent during the first eight months of this year, according to WardsAuto in Southfield, Michigan, which tracks industry performance.

California offers as much as $5,000 in rebates for the purchase or lease of new zero-emission and plug-in hybrid light-duty vehicles. The state has doled out more than $158 million in rebates since 2010.

In part because of such sweeteners, the state already accounts for 40 percent of plug-in electric vehicles in the U.S., according to the California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative.

Economic Growth

Sensitivity to environmental issues doesn’t conflict with economic growth, Brown said in a video released Sept. 19 in advance of his visit to New York.

“Despite taking the leading role in combating climate change in the United States, if not in the world, our economy is not only recovering, it is expanding at a greater rate than the rest of the country,” Brown said.

The value of goods and services produced in California grew 3.6 percent in 2013 to $2.2 trillion, surpassing the economies of Russia and Italy. The U.S. grew 2.2 percent.

Agriculture in California produced $21.4 billion in revenue in 2012, three times more than the $6.8 billion in second-ranked Iowa, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis compiled by Bloomberg.

California technology companies took in $673 billion in revenue in the past 12 months, 51.4 percent of sales for all of the U.S. The value of manufacturing in California climbed 8 percent to $204 billion in 2012, compared with a 7.4 percent increase in Texas to $176 billion.

For decades, California has been a trendsetter in laws aimed at lowering greenhouse gases tied to climate change.

Conservation Rewards

The state was one of the first to require lower tailpipe emissions from vehicles and now has the most expansive mandate for energy-intensive businesses, such as oil refineries, to cut discharges of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming to 1990 levels by 2020.

During Brown’s first tenure as governor in the 1970s and 1980s, he helped rewrite electricity regulations so power companies were rewarded for how much energy they save rather than how much they produce. He pushed for solar power, argued for laws to combat smog, curbed tax breaks for oil companies and battled off-shore drilling.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, in 2006 signed into law the nation’s most comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions law. It set up cap-and-trade rules that let businesses buy pollution credits from companies that reduce emissions.

Climate Negotiations

“If the rest of the country had our policies in California, it would be equivalent to retiring two-thirds of America’s coal-fired power plants or taking 188 million cars off the road,” Schwarzenegger told participants at a conference on climate change in Sacramento on Sept. 8.

California in 2002 became the first to require carmakers to produce vehicles that emit less carbon dioxide beginning with 2009 models. The federal government followed with similar standards in 2012.

Zero-emission vehicles include battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel-cell-electric vehicles, technologies that can be used in passenger cars, trucks and transit buses.

The aim of the UN summit, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, is to gather momentum for climate negotiations that are set to conclude at a meeting in Paris next December. The goal is to curb the release of carbon dioxide and other warming gases so that average global temperatures don’t rise more than 2 degrees Celsius.

In a report yesterday, scientists said carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuel are set to rise 2.5 percent this year to a record 40 billion tons.

The Brown administration’s recent efforts at boosting the infrastructure for supporting hydrogen-fueled vehicles has encouraged companies including Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. to develop them, said John Hanson, a spokesman for the world’s biggest automaker.

“This is yet another clear example of their dedication toward establishing California as the leader in advanced clean-air technology,” he said in a telephone interview.

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