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‘See through the smoke’: West Coast leaders sign new climate action agreement

John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, said the effects of climate change are more pronounced on the West Coast than anywhere.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom joined leaders from Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia on Thursday to expand a regional commitment to investing in “green energy” industries to lower greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier John Horgan signed the pact alongside Newsom in San Francisco, saying it represents a Pacific Northwest partnership toward climate action. California, Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia are part of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, along with the cities of Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. The partnership formed in 2008, endorsed by then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

“This is not about electric power, this is about economic power,” Newsom said to a group gathered in the city he led as mayor for years, at San Francisco’s new park Presidio Tunnel Tops with Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. 

“This is about dominating the next global industry. The industry knows where the buck’s going.” 

​​The new agreement outlines goals like investing in “overburdened” communities that need infrastructure like charging stations and renewable energy projects; investing in green ports and a clean energy grid across the region; and funding efforts to protect lands from flooding and wildfire such as through forest thinning and prescribed burns. 

Newsom recently signed legislation to make California’s climate action policies the most aggressive in the nation. He signed 40 bills that have California poised to move up the list of the world's largest economies, and contrasted California’s efforts with the ongoing Republican pushback against climate change and states like Texas, which burned nearly 23 million tons of coal in the first five months of the year. He noted California weathered the recent historic heat wave without rolling blackouts — “the most extreme test our state has ever faced" — and called the Legislature’s move to pass $53.9 billion for climate action even more progress to adjust to climate crises. 

The leaders gathered in San Francisco on Thursday said this new plan points to leading the country in clean energy industries. 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed told the assembled crowd “It is our responsibility as stewards to not only be the leaders in climate change, but to make sure we are teaching the next generation and implementing policies that make it easier to be better stewards.”

Newsom reminded the crowd of California’s “extreme heat dome” event in September and drought conditions persisting for 8 of the last 10 years. He said he invited the other leaders to come together to show unity because their regions are experiencing similar challenges. 

“We’re all being stretched, our minds are being stretched in terms of the challenges — but also the opportunities,” he said. “These folks are doing the real work, and that’s hard.”

Newsom said 16% of all new electric vehicle purchases are in California, and the state has six times more clean energy jobs than fossil fuel industry jobs. But he also pointed out how the state is working to financially support Californians affected by the rising costs charged by petroleum companies, which he called “petro dictators that don't have your best interests at heart.” 

About 23 million people can expect to start getting their checks for gasoline relief in the mail starting Friday, the largest tax rebate in national history, he said. He acknowledged people have waited nine months since it was announced, and said he thought it was being delivered in a “very timely manner.” Meanwhile, he said his office is discussing whether to call a special legislative session to penalize “big polluters" for raising gas prices sharply over the past few weeks without sufficient explanation.

“Don't fret, don't be too anxious. These are the antidotes to that stress," Newsom said.

Brown said the power to change the course of climate change lies with "the power and ingenuity" of communities, businesses and state and local governments. "Future generations will judge us not on the fact of climate change, but what we’ve done to tackle it," she said.

Horgan said the agreement signing is a symbolic recognition of the issues that unite the Pacific region. 

“Nowhere are those effects more profound than they have been here on the West Coast,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to sign an agreement that’s going to talk about equity, it’s going to talk about inclusion and a future that includes everybody.”

Inslee said their job is to “see through the smoke” with this plan, to slow down worsening climate change effects and work with other countries in the new clean energy industry.

“It is the best economic development strategy on the earth today,” he said, adding how his state and the others are already talking to leaders of other nations who are leading clean energy investments.

“We have consortiums across multiple boundaries. The top economies in the country are represented right here with these four leader groups. We want to pedal as fast as we can, and are looking forward to working with anyone in the world in order to do that," Inslee said.

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