California Lawmakers Introduce Major Package Of Bills To Tackle Climate Change

California, which has long been known as a leader in finding ways to cut its contribution to climate change, just one-upped itself.

On Monday, Democratic lawmakers in the state unveiled a package of four bills that aim to tackle climate change in the state. One of the bills, SB 350, calls for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks, a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and a goal of 50 percent of state utilities’ power coming from renewable energy, all by 2030. Current California law requires utilities get 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2050. SB 350’s goals are virtually the same as the ones called for by California Gov. Jerry Brown in his inaugural address in January.

“These all send a very strong message, a strong signal to California businesses, and leave no doubt in the direction we’re heading in,” California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said of SB 350 in a press conference announcing the climate change package. “We need to move the state away from fossil fuels and free consumers from the grip of oil prices…the fact is, an economy built on fossil fuels is an economy built on shifting sand.”

The other three bills aren’t quite as ambitious as SB 350, but they do call for major changes in California. SB 32, which was introduced by Senator Fran Pavley, would expand upon California’s climate change law, AB32, which was signed by Gov. Arnold Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. That law mandates that the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. SB 32 would build on that law, locking California in to reducing its emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 — a goal that, according to the bill’s proposal, has been endorsed by the California Air Resources Board as doable and necessary if California wants to “stave off the costliest effects of climate change.”

A third bill, SB 189, would spur the creation of the Committee on Maximizing Jobs and Economic Growth, a seven-person group that will advise the state on how best to spend funds related to clean energy and greenhouse gases. The final bill, SB 185, would require two major state funds — the Public Employees Retirement System and the State Teacher’s Retirement System — to divest their holdings from coal companies.

“Our state’s largest pension funds also need to keep their eyes on the future,” De Leon told the Guardian. “With coal power in retreat, and the value of coal dropping, we should be moving our massive state portfolios to lower carbon investments and focus on the growing clean-energy economy.”

De Leon said that, overall, the package of bills allows California to “remain at the forefront” of leadership in climate change action in the United States. He also said that he was confident the bills, if adopted, wouldn’t harm California’s economy.

“Choosing between climate change policies and policies that build economic growth is a false choice,” he said. “The bottom line is: common-sense, sensible climate change policy is economic growth policy for the state of California.”

Senator Ben Hueso, who authored SB 189, said in the news conference that the package represented the “California Gold Rush of the modern era,” which would allow the state to take advantage of the economic opportunities of wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy.

As the LA Times reports, however, the bills aren’t likely to be approved — or rejected — without a fight in the state legislature. The oil industry has already voiced its displeasure with some of the bills: the Western States Petroleum Association said in a statement that it is “strongly opposed” to SB 350’s call to reduce petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030, saying bills like that are “attacks on an important industry in California designed to create conflict and controversy.”

The package of bills comes a few days after former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for more action on climate change, saying that, instead of waiting for U.N. climate summits, countries “should be fighting climate change right now.”

The bills also come amid a major drought in California that’s been linked to climate change, and the same week that one of the world’s the largest solar plants was officially opened in California.