June 3, 2009 - From the January, -, May, 2009 issue

VerdeXchange Panel: Can California's Climate Change Initiatives Guide Federal Implementation?

MIR is pleased to present the following excerpts from a recent panel at the VerdeXchange Green Marketmakers Conference in Los Angeles. The panel, entitled "Are California's Climate Change Initiatives a Roadmap for the New U.S. Administration and Congress," examined how California's suite of global warming legislation will influence a federal government marked by drastic changes in policy agenda. The following excerpts are from the presentations of Robert Hertzberg, Chairman of G24i and former California Speaker of the Assembly , and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon).


Robert Hertzberg

Robert Hertzberg: The subject matter for this session is, "Are California's Climate Change Initiatives a Roadmap for the New U.S. Administration and Congress?"...If I can, for a moment, frame out what I think the five principle elements of California's efforts with respect to the climate change action are. First, the longest standing and most successful policy, originating in the early 1970s by the California Energy Commission, which set strict standards for appliance and building energy efficiency. This policy was so effective that since 1974, the California per-capita electrical consumption has held constant while the U.S. per-capita electric consumption, as a whole, has risen by 80 percent.

Second is AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, which builds on the 2000 renewable portfolio standard and generally requires a reduction of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020-something we have seen in Kyoto and countries around the world. In principle, AB 32 is important because it put California on a national agenda. It calls for a list of early actions for companies to take to reduce GHGs. It requires the state to inventory its historic emissions, which Mary Nichols and team have done, and to develop a comprehensive Scoping Plan to set forth actions designed to reduce carbon emissions, which Mary and team have also done. That Scoping Plan has been developed and is putting California on the road to understanding the nature and scope of the goal and identifying ways to get there.

Third is AB 1493-the hard-fought Fran Pavley bill-which this morning the president talked about in reference to the waivers to deal with tailpipe emissions for California automobiles.

Fourth, the governor's executive order that establishes an 80 percent reduction of GHGs by 2050, consistent with the UN standards and requirements to deal with our global challenges.

Lastly, and most recently, is SB 375, authored and carried through by our new Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, which ties planning to vehicle miles traveled.

The real question here for this federal panel is, will any of these policies be part of the federal picture? From a practical perspective, how realistic is it to implement these on a national level?

Congressman Earl Blumenauer: We are talking about Los Angeles' efforts to become a livable city and creatively deal with the challenges that it faces. It is a serious subject that we are assigned to talk about the role that California and Los Angeles have in terms of the landmark work that you are doing to cope with these global energy challenges, greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, and the impact that it will have on the federal government.

I come from Oregon. I will tell you that 35 years ago we implemented legislation that dealt with statewide land-use planning, linking transportation to land use, and things that you are now being celebrated for enacting into law last year. But we're from Oregon. Who knew? If it happens in California, people pay attention. That is why I have been coming here throughout my public service career, absolutely committed to making California the number one livable state in the union. I will do anything I can to help you meet your challenges: to be livable and to keep your people here, prosperous, and happy. It is time well spent.

The landmark legislation that you have undertaken and are talking about in great detail is of critical importance. We have been testing it for you for over a third of the century. You brought it into the spotlight, and that is what will help us break through these barriers on the state level and, most importantly, for the federal government to wake up and get with the program. I would hope that you will accompany this legislation with efforts to redefine the partnerships between the public and private sector, working in particular with our railroads and our utilities-people who are involved with the old, stable industries. They are a part of the definition of our country over the last two centuries. They have vast resources. They have new leadership that I find very exciting. The 4,000 largest utilities have a monthly relationship with over 95 percent of American businesses and households. They can still borrow some money. They have infrastructure. There is a way to work on the implementation of this. I'm hopeful that California will help lead the way as you've done with energy conservation.

I also hope that there will be a strong back-to-basics element. We need mixed use development where people can walk, bike, and run safely, where they can live, move, and work where they shop, and where they don't have to buy a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk. These are critically important, simple steps.

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There is the mayor's initiative for one million street trees. Natural shading slows traffic, absorbs ground water. These are things that will improve property value while they improve the environment. They are cost effective. Streetcars: you know, Who killed Roger Rabbit? In Portland this decade we introduced what we like to say is the first modern streetcar. There are 80 cities around the country, including Los Angeles, that are looking at this fundamental, simple element that you can build for one-third to one-tenth of the cost of light rail in the existing right-of-way and send a signal to neighbors and developers that it is going to be there for decades.

These are things that you can help pioneer with the efforts that you're undertaking. It is going to help us in the federal government to do our job. We do have a new administration, but frankly, they are doing lots of things. I am a little nervous that they are moving a little too fast on some items and that they are mixing some things together. But I'm not going to fault the "big guy." I love what is going on; we will make the best of it. As a practical matter, we need to focus on five things, do them very well, and not rush into it.

First, because of the way that Karl Rove, Tom Delay, and California's Bill Thomas wrote the Bush tax cuts, the tax cuts will all expire this Congress. We will be fundamentally rewriting the tax code and making sure that we are sensitive to carbon impacts. Incenting the things that we need for the future is vitally important.

Second, we need to make sure that the economic stimulus-and this is the first batch of initiatives; we are going to see one or two more before we are all done-are all deeply incenting economies for the future.

Third, we need to invest in infrastructure that reduces our carbon footprint, provides jobs, strengthens our economy, and improves the livability of our communities. Capture the value created by a carbon-constrained economy and invest it in a broader range of transportation choices, such as public transit, inter-city rail, bike lanes, and trails that reduce VMT. Use that value to help local governments craft land use plans that reduce the need to drive for every trip, that encourage mixed-use developments where people can walk, bike, or take transit to shopping, to schools, or to jobs.

Fourth, we need to change our focus to performance-based objectives. Many of our programs and processes are based on outmoded, narrow requirements that often work at cross-purposes to our goals. That means we're spending our time meeting requirements that may be obsolete instead of accomplishing our objectives. We need to set definite and comprehensive standards, then allow state and local governments the flexibility to meet those standards in ways that make the most sense for their situations. It's imperative that we do it in a way that maximizes your priorities on a state and local level and that we use this as a vehicle to get back to the basics and to redevelop those relationships-changing the process so we don't have to be stuck in time.

Finally, if there is one thing that the federal government could do to help you, to help us, and to help the world, it is to lead by example. The federal government is the largest consumer of energy in the world. The GSA manages a portfolio of over 300 million square feet. Federal government, instead of printing money and bailing out failing industries, should lead by example by placing an order for, say, 600,000 vehicles to replace our fleet over the next five years with vehicles of the future. If we made a commitment for January 1, 2011 that we will no longer lease, rent, buy, or build any structure that isn't "Platinum LEED certified with a twist," it would have a transformational effect. If the federal government cleans up after itself on the millions of acres that are polluted with military toxins and explosives (many of those locations are here in the state of California), it would put people to work, with middle-class jobs, and provide millions of acres for redevelopment and recreation.

These are things that the federal government can do that do not require new rules or regulations and which utilize budgets we already have and will build tax payer value while it funds the industries of the future.

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