From the look of things, California is gearing up for a fight.
During the campaign, President-Elect Trump promised to redirect EPA’s focus away from climate change, with a greater emphasis on clean air and clean water. As part of this pledge, he vowed to dismantle the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and roll back EPA regulations, which he sees as hampering U.S. competitiveness.
California sees things differently. On January 4, California’s Legislature announced it had hired Eric H. Holder Jr., President Obama’s former U.S. Attorney General, as outside counsel to lead the state’s legal challenges to the incoming administration on a number of fronts, including the environment. In a joint statement, the Legislature explained, “With the upcoming change in administrations, we expect that there will be extraordinary challenges for California in the uncertain times ahead. . . . This is a critical moment in the history of our nation. We have an obligation to defend the people who elected us and the policies and diversity that make California an example of what truly makes our nation great.”
With the largest economy of all the states and sixth-largest in the world, California has pushed ahead of the federal government on environmental and climate issues more than once. It was the first state to adopt its own vehicle emissions standards (which are allowed to be more stringent than national standards), and in 2012 created the only state-level cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, in part due to a desire to spur similar action from other states. Since last November’s election, California policymakers have voiced their commitment to forge ahead with the state’s environmental agenda, regardless of what happens at the federal level. Soon after the election, Governor Brown stated, “We will protect the precious rights of our people and continue to confront the existential threat of our time — devastating climate change.” California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chairwoman Mary Nichols has said that efforts to reduce GHGs will move forward regardless of who is president.
So what exactly does this all mean? Brown has promised to seek legislation in 2017 authorizing CARB to extend the cap-and-trade program beyond 2020, the final compliance period currently authorized. Other expected actions are an extension of the low carbon fuel standard to 2030 and enforcement of a new renewable portfolio standard that requires 50 percent clean power by 2030. There are also rumors that Brown may seek legislation introducing new carbon fees or taxes, as well as a requirement that the state cut its overall petroleum consumption. In addition, California is expected to continue its partnerships with private industry to advance its climate change agenda. This includes a number of subsidy programs to encourage more electric cars, installation of renewable energy, and greater energy efficiency.
One impact of the election that may be unavoidable is a chilling of CARB’s strong relationship with EPA. If California finds a less willing partner under a Trump-led EPA, it may choose to sue EPA and/or work with other like-minded states and/or entities to get the results it wants. In addition, some of California’s efforts may be derailed or suspended under a Trump Administration, particularly plans for GHG credit trading linkages with other states as part of CPP compliance.
California’s commitment to move forward with its climate change agenda can be expected to encounter resistance under the incoming Administration – the question is how much. With Holder now working for California, however, one thing is certain: things are about to get very interesting.