California Democrat Rolls Out Green New Deal to Fight Climate Change, Poverty

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Calling for immediate action to combat climate change and fight poverty in the nation’s largest state, a group of lawmakers on Monday unveiled the framework for a California Green New Deal.

Climate activists marched through downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 1, 2019, as part of the Fridays for Futures environmental awareness event. (Nathan Solis / CNS)

Citing a lack of action by Congress and the Trump administration, a group of California Democrats said it’s up to the state to continue fighting the “existential” threat of climate change by simultaneously cutting greenhouse gas emissions and improving the standard of living for low-income communities and people of color.

“People who have been hurt by the fossil fuel economy must be first in line to benefit from the new clean energy, green economy,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland. “This is about addressing climate change and equity.”

Bonta outlined what he’s calling the California Green New Deal outside of the state Capitol during a press conference. Though the legislation is still being finalized, Bonta and the Democrats said it will lay the foundation for a fossil fuel-free and more inclusive economy.

According to Bonta, the deal’s main goals are to double the current amount of available affordable housing by 2030 and accelerate the state’s existing air pollution goals. The proposal will also seek to improve public transportation options and boost education opportunities. He added that while his version has similar pillars and shares the name of the package pitched last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., it will particularly focus on reducing California’s poverty rate – the highest in the nation.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, applauded Bonta for involving community groups and social justice organizations while crafting the deal.

“It becomes incumbent upon us to actually ask the question: Why aren’t there people of color involved in this whole issue of the environment?” Weber asked during a press conference. “This new deal says we have to be, that we’re not an afterthought but we’re in the middle of it.”

Though Bonta and the Assembly Democrats unveiled the central tenets of their proposal Monday, they did not offer specifics as to how the plan will be paid for. A final version of the bill was not available by press time.

Bonta, California’s first-ever Filipino American state lawmaker and former San Francisco deputy city attorney, introduced a similar Green New Deal bill in 2019 but it didn’t receive a hearing. Bonta said he’s spent the last year meeting with community groups and environmentalists to put the finishing touches on what will be Assembly Bill 1839.

The national proposal by Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., focuses on creating jobs and boosting the economy while slashing U.S. reliance on fossil fuels. The U.S. Senate rejected the Green New Deal 57-0 in what Democrats called a “show-vote” this past March.

A coalition of environmental groups including Sierra Club and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network are backing California’s version and 13 Democratic Assembly members have already signed on as co-authors. Bonta said the bill language could be available later Monday.

“This is not something we just decided to do, this is something that science is telling us we have to do,” Bonta said.

A renewed push for renewable energy and utility reforms is certain to dominate the state’s legislative agenda as the Democratic lawmakers introduced their ambitious plan on the first day of the 2020 session. Monday’s plan comes just months after the state’s largest utilities left millions of Californians in the dark in a series of planned power shutoffs aimed at preventing wildfires started by their equipment.

Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, wants to give state regulators more sway over the so-called public safety power shutoffs that plagued the Golden State in 2019. His office said Monday that he will introduce proposals that would give the California Public Utility Commissions authority to decide whether a shutoff is necessary and if Pacific Gas & Electric and other utilities should have to compensate affected businesses and residents.

Lawmakers have also proposed the option of turning PG&E into a public entity, while Gov. Gavin Newsom is demanding changes to its corporate structure. Assemblyman Mark Levine, D-Marin, introduced Assembly Bill 1847 on Monday, which would authorize the California Public Utilities Commission to temporarily appoint a public administrator to oversee the public safety operations of PG&E and any other investor-owned utility.

Over the next month, the Democratic-controlled Legislature is also expected to take up a bill that would create a multibillion-dollar climate bond to help prepare for and respond to natural disasters. If approved by lawmakers, voters would have final say over whether to borrow for future wildfires and other catastrophes.

While state Democrats continue striving for new clean energy mandates, the state’s minority party is pressing in the other direction.

Assemblyman James Gallagher and state Sen. Jim Nielsen, whose districts include fire-ravaged Butte County and the town of Paradise, are proposing a temporary freeze of the state’s renewable power mandates. The Republicans claim the pause will give Pacific Gas and Electric and other utilities the chance to funnel resources to checking transmission lines and hardening their grids instead of complying with laws that require them to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.

“Century-old infrastructure, tinderbox forests and [pre-emptive power shutoff events] are unacceptable. Renewable energy mandates that take away from addressing these issues while fires continue to burn are intolerable,” Gallagher said last October.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, meanwhile said Monday he’ll bring a bill to electrify a large swath of Southern California’s light-rail system, paid for with money earmarked for the state’s beleaguered high-speed rail system – which is years behind schedule, billions over budget and vilified by the state GOP at every turn.

“California deserves immediate solutions, not baby steps,” said Lackey.  “This Republican New Deal is a common-sense solution to get cars off the road without spending new taxpayer dollars,” Lackey said in a statement. “High-speed rail is a disaster – it’s time to put that money towards projects that will actually do some good.”

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