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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Climate Action Winner in the Golden State

Air Date: Week of

A new electric vehicle charging station in the Coachella Valley, California. As of November 2022, 18% of the new vehicles sold in the state are electric vehicles. (Photo: Ron Gilbert, Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom handily won re-election and now has 4 more years to work towards his goal of achieving carbon neutrality in the state by 2045. Mr. Newsom and other Governors have billions of dollars in climate funding at their disposal that was allocated by the U.S. Congress this summer. These state governments will play a crucial role in helping cities, universities, and the private sector make the most of it. Lauren Sanchez, Senior Climate Advisor to Governor Newsom, joins Host Steve Curwood for a look at California’s top climate priorities and how the Golden State intends to lead on climate amid an uncertain national political landscape.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom handily won re-election and now has four more years to work towards his goal of achieving carbon neutrality in the state by 2045. Now, it won’t be easy or cheap. But Uncle Sam is providing a big down payment, with the $370 billion for climate in the Inflation Reduction Act passed by the U.S. Congress this summer. Now it’s up to state governments like California’s to dole out that money and help cities, universities, and the private sector make the most of it. Joining us now to discuss climate action in the Golden State is the Senior Climate Advisor to Governor Newsom, Lauren Sanchez. Welcome to Living on Earth!

SANCHEZ: Thanks so much for having me, Steve.

CURWOOD: It's our pleasure. So Governor Newsom has four more years and a clear mandate from the electorate to move ahead with the state's ambitious climate policy. What's the top priority around dealing with climate change in California?

SANCHEZ: Well, Steve, I just want to start with, you know, I'm so grateful to be in a state that has so many people across the political spectrum, and across the state for whom climate change is really a top issue. That is what has allowed California to be a leader in this space, really for decades. We've had three bipartisan governors who have continued to lead on this agenda, you know, unlike the political seesaw of our federal government. And in my role, when I travel around the state, I visit neighborhoods where there's oil drilling next to daycares, or talk to moms about protecting their kids from our heat waves, or traveling firsthand to see some of our devastating wildfires in the Sierra, it is clear that this is really a top issue for all Californians. We have a long history of kind of setting bold climate goals in California, our 2020, 2030 climate targets. And just a few months ago, the governor actually worked with the legislature to enact a new suite of world-leading climate legislation. You mentioned our carbon neutrality by 2045 goal. But now we also need to achieve 90% clean energy by 2035. And we've made big advancements in carbon removal, and nature-based solutions. And this is all to say, our big top priority for our next term will be turning those big goals into action, really turning promises into solutions and benefits for communities. We call it the era of implementation. You know, historically, we've cut our carbon pollution while growing the economy, and that's what, you know, states and countries really around the world are looking for. They're all gathered in Egypt right now at the annual UN conference. And Steve, earlier in my career, I actually helped President Obama negotiate the Paris Agreement, lived and breathed the UN climate process. But it was really an easy decision to stay here in California this week with the governor, because it's clear that he means action. Not the big lofty goals and talking, but his commitment to our clean energy revolution is really what the movement needs right now. So our commitment to implementation over the next four years, to delivering the innovation and the tools that the state needs to achieve those climate goals, is really going to be our top priority.

Governor Gavin Newsom and CAL FIRE Chief Curtis Brown survey the devastation of the 2021 Dixie Fire in Greenville, California. (Photo: CAL FIRE_Official, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

CURWOOD: So where do you start now? You've got these four years clear ahead, you've got this strong mandate, the emergency is with us, we know. There are a lot of things to do, but you can't do everything at once. What's at the top of the list right now?

SANCHEZ: So about half of our climate pollution comes from the transportation sector in California. And if listeners have visited the state, they know why: We have 30 million cars on the road, a big state, and a long history of car culture. The governor really made it a top priority to accelerate all of our efforts to make sure that we are leaving the tailpipe behind, really ending combustion in our vehicles and moving towards 100% sales of electric vehicles by 2035. You know, Steve, he issued an executive order halfway through the first term, setting out that goal. And then just a few months ago, the Air Resources Board enacted that goal into law. We just passed $10 billion in a package for zero emission vehicles, specifically subsidies and incentives for lower income Californians to be able to get into those cleaner cars. We are at about 18% of sales right now are EVs in the state, we have half of the nation's clean cars here in California. And this is a big priority for us if we're going to achieve carbon neutrality and these other ambitious goals. I would also say as we think about climate change, and just the economic opportunity that it offers Californians and communities around the state, you know, we have 43 manufacturers of EVs here in the state, we have six times as many clean energy jobs as fossil fuel jobs. You know, building the clean energy revolution and the clean electric vehicle revolution here in state is going to lift up so many communities, deliver good jobs, and really allow California to continue dominating as one of the world's largest economies.

CURWOOD: So you have a highway towards climate progress in California. What challenges or obstacles are you seeing? What's going to be the, one of the toughest nuts for you guys to, to crack to move these ambitious policies forward?

California Governor Gavin Newsom and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the New Zealand Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, where the two leaders established a new international climate partnership outlining common objectives to achieve carbon-neutrality by mid-century and more. (Photo: Office of the Governor of California, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

SANCHEZ: Well, Steve, one of the biggest challenges we have is really just the urgency, the speed with which we need to transform the world's now fourth largest economy. You know, when I started my career in climate change, we often talked about the impacts we would be dealing with in 2050 or in 2100. And here in California, there are impacts we're dealing with today. I mean, I think your listeners are probably very familiar with the devastating images of wildfires, the historic drought we're in, we broke a thousand heat temperatures during our heatwave in September. I mean, these are, we are confronting the realities of this crisis day in and day out. So we know that we are going to continue leading the world on reducing carbon pollution. But we also are spending a lot of time protecting those most vulnerable communities here in state. I would also say, you know, climate used to be seen as an environmental issue, but it isn't. It's really an all of society issue. And the only way we're going to achieve that urgency for our 2030 goals and our 2045 goals is by really mobilizing an all of society movement across this state, to get the clean energy built, and the clean infrastructure built, the affordable transit that we know we need. But Steve, I'd also take a moment, you know, we're fighting an existential battle right now against some of the big polluters here in California. That climate legislative package that I mentioned earlier was fought really hard by Big Oil, who has, you know, a tremendous amount of historic political power here in the state. And the governor and the legislative leaders stood with communities against Big Oil, and won that fight. But now we know that they're filing a referendum to overturn some of those laws, and to continue polluting our communities and polluting the planet; while, I'll mention, raising gas prices, an incredibly important political issue here in California. The governor has called for a special legislative session to enact a windfall profit tax. We saw record quarter three profits from the big oil companies last quarter, as, you know, Californian families are struggling at the gas pumps. I will say some of the big oil companies have seen the writing on the wall and are working constructively with us on a clean energy future, whether it's green hydrogen, or shifting towards building electric vehicle charging at those stations, and we're excited to partner with our industry partners on the clean energy future that we can all believe in. So hopefully, we'll have future partners on this battle going forward.

CURWOOD: Now, there's billions of dollars that the Inflation Reduction Act makes available for states to put towards low carbon and resiliency projects. How is the governor's office there in California gonna help the cities, towns, universities, counties, and the private sector leverage those funds?

An oil rig in a south Los Angeles neighborhood. In September 2022 Governor Newsom signed into a law a provision banning new oil drilling within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, parks, or businesses open to the public, and setting pollution limits for existing wells within that boundary. (Photo: Sarah Craig/Faces of Fracking, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

SANCHEZ: Well, Steve, President Biden deserves a lot of credit for getting the Inflation Reduction Act across the finish line. And I'm really grateful that John Podesta, a tremendous leader and partner, is really at the helm of implementing those critical funds from the federal government. I think we think of victory as getting the legislation passed. And I'll tell you, I was incredibly happy that we were able to get it passed! But here in California, we think of victory as getting those funds to Californians and really Americans across the country so that they can save money on their energy bills, they can reduce carbon pollution, and really be a part of our movement. The state plays a critical role in supporting cities and schools and farmers, our innovative clean businesses, in accessing those funds, and importantly, making sure that the communities most in need benefit first and foremost from those funds.

CURWOOD: Talk to me about the priority list in terms of advancing environmental justice. I know at times the cap and trade program California's had has been criticized because polluters near low-income neighborhoods, often of color, get the pollution while the credits go elsewhere. What do you see as the top priority to advance environmental justice in California now?

SANCHEZ: Well, Steve, Governor Newsom's climate plan really starts and ends with communities. If you look around the state, around the nation, and you look for a polluting facility: a port, an incinerator, or refinery, you'll find a low-income community or community of color next door. That's the environmental justice we're fighting day in and day out. What we're trying to do, really across the government, through resources, through access to policymaking and decision makers, through legislation, is empower those communities, to lift them up. Because fundamentally, we all deserve equal access to clean air and a healthy environment. I'm proud to be a part of the Newsom administration where, throughout the first term, we were able to advance a number of environmental justice communities and priorities of our community partners whether it was access to safe and affordable drinking water, protecting communities from toxic pollution, or ending harmful neighborhood oil drilling. So one of the bills we were able to pass this year that has failed in previous legislative sessions is building a buffer between oil drilling and sensitive receptors: homes, schools, daycares; a 3200 foot health buffer to protect communities from what we know are incredibly harmful health impacts of oil drilling. That law was passed, there's a referendum now filed to overturn it. The law actually begins implementation on January 1 of next year. So our entire agencies are really focused on how we can get that law in place so that, you know, we end this really harmful practice of drilling next to daycares. And make sure that you know, when you drop your kids off at school, you don't see an oil rig polluting them, giving them asthma, cancer, etc. So continuing to fight for that and implement that law in an equitable way will continue to be a top environmental justice priority for us.

Lauren Sanchez is Governor Gavin Newsom’s Senior Climate Adviser. (Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Sanchez)

CURWOOD: Lauren, how can California and Governor Newsom partner with and lead other pro-climate protection states and governors on these issues? I'm thinking of Maura Healey of Massachusetts, Wes Moore has won in Maryland, Gretchen Whitmer has won reelection, among others, and actually the Canadian provinces for that matter as well.

SANCHEZ: Well, Steve, I have to say, even as you read off that list of victories this year, there's, I just feel a tremendous sense of solidarity. You know, California is 1% of global climate emissions. We can't do this alone. We have built partnerships with other nations and states and provinces over the last few years, and really been able to share what has worked in California, and what we've learned from what hasn't worked. But we also want to learn from others. You know, I could point to any one of those states and I think there are a number of things that they're doing where they're ahead of us. I do think the urgency and the solidarity that is required on this issue means we need partners all around the country. I'd also point to, Steve, the US Climate Alliance, a group of 24 bipartisan governors who came together during the Trump administration, really to fight back against everything the federal government was doing. Now, we're in an exciting, I would say, discussion around, depending on how Congress shakes out in the next few weeks, we know that states are going to continue to play a really important role in ensuring we move forward as a nation despite what is happening in DC. The governor co-chairs that alliance and will continue to play an important leadership role.

CURWOOD: The climate emergency is existential, it's huge. You guys have fires, we're looking at crazy storms. And we really almost seem like we're out of time to deal with it. What gets you up in the morning to do this work?

SANCHEZ: Well, Steve, one of the most inspiring parts of this job is the conversations I get to have with the youth leaders around our state. There's a young Latina in Davis, Alexandria Villasenor, who's actually at the COP right now leading the California youth delegation, and bringing the message of urgency and the existential fight for our future to that meeting. She is a big part of shaping our agenda here in California, I think the youth vote is going to continue to be reflected on the role it played in the elections this year. It is critical that we empower our young voices and young leaders around the state and around the nation. The passion they bring to this movement will be so incredibly important going forward. And as a 33 year old, you know, they call me old. [LAUGHS] But I like to think that, you know, I bring some of that passion to this role as well, I get most hopeful talking to them. And, you know, Steve, climate change is a top issue for youth voters around California but also a top issue for Latino voters around California. And as we look at changing politics around the nation, it's going to be critical that we have youth and Latino voices and leaders as part of this movement.

CURWOOD: Lauren Sanchez is a Senior Climate Adviser to California Governor Gavin Newsom. Thanks so much for taking the time with us today.

SANCHEZ: Thanks again for having me, Steve.



Press release: “Governor Newsom Signs Sweeping Climate Measures, Ushering in New Era of World-Leading Climate Action”


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