The commitment to acting on climate change by the Biden administration is attracting much attention, as President Biden outlines his agenda and appoints individuals to carry it out across the government.
But just as important, as they have always been, are steps being taken by states to curb emissions and promote cleaner forms of energy. And no state has been more of a leader on these issues than California.
In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless talks to two of the leading energy reporters in California, which has been hard hit by the pandemic even as it copes with wildfires and other environmental disasters made worse by climate change.
Sammy Roth covers energy for the Los Angeles Times and writes the weekly “Boiling Point”. He previously reported for the Desert Sun and USA Today, where he focused on renewable energy, climate change, electric utilities and public lands. He holds a bachelor of arts in sustainable development from Columbia University, where he was the editor in chief of the Columbia Daily Spectator.
J.D. Morris is a business reporter covering PG&E and the coronavirus for the San Francisco Chronicle. Before joining the Chronicle, he was the Sonoma County government reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, where he was among journalists awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the 2017 North Bay wildfires.
Both Sammy and J.D. are past participants in the Energy Journalism Initiative at the Center on Global Energy Policy which helps energy journalists gain a deeper understanding of complex issues associated with the beat. CGEP is now accepting applications from energy journalists for the 2021 EJI seminar in June. More information is available on the CGEP website.
In their conversation, Bill, Sammy and J.D. discuss the impact of the pandemic in California and the implications of it for efforts to address climate change. They also delve into the status of various climate policies undertaken in the Golden State, including its cap-and-trade program and steps taken at the state and local level to promote electric vehicles and restrict installation of natural gas service in new residential and commercial buildings.
Bill Loveless: Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. From Washington, I’m Bill Loveless. We've spent a lot of time lately talking about the changes taking place in Washington as the Biden administration and the democrat led Congress take hold of power. And when it comes to energy and climate change, there's been plenty to consider as President Biden fills his administration with advocates of action on climate change and outlines a robust policy reflecting that commitment. But it's important to remember the prominent role that states play in Energy and Climate Policy, especially California where curbing emissions and promoting cleaner forms of energy have been top priorities for years. That said, California has been one of the state's hardest hit by the pandemic, even as it copes with wildfires and other environmental disasters made worse by climate change. So with all of that in mind, I reached out to two of the leading reporters on energy and climate change in California, Sammy Roth of the Los Angeles Times and JD Morris of the San Francisco Chronicle to see what they and their newspapers are reporting on these urgent issues. Sammy covers energy for the Times and writes the weekly Boiling Point newsletter. He previously reported for the Desert Sun and USA Today, where he focused on renewable energy, climate change electric utilities and public lands. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in sustainable development from Columbia, where he was the editor in chief of the Columbia Daily Spectator. JD is a business reporter covering PG&E and the Coronavirus for the Chronicle. Before joining the paper, he was the Sonoma County government reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat where he was among the journalists the water the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the 2017 North Bay wildfires and previously was the casino industry reporter for the Las Vegas Sun. He holds a bachelor's degree in rhetoric from UC Berkeley. I got to know Sammy and JD, when they participated in the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative, a program that helps energy journalists gain a deeper understanding of the complex issues associated with the beat. And I've been following their reporting ever since. And by the way, the Center on Global Energy Policy is now accepting applications for the 2021 Energy Journalism Initiative. You can find more information on our website. Well, here's our conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Sammy Roth, JD Morris, welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange.
Sammy Roth & JD Morris: Happy to be here. Happy to be here too.
Bill Loveless: Well guys. You know, so much wanted to I look forward to talking about all that's going on in California right now as, you know, it seems especially for people like me we’re based in Washington we talk a lot about what's going on in Washington right now with all the changes but can't forget all this happening elsewhere particularly in places like California. But first tell us a little bit about your career path in journalism and how you ended up on the Energy and Environment beat just to acquaint our listeners with each of you, Sammy?
Sammy Roth: Yeah. So it's actually kind of appropriate for me to be here on Columbia Energy Exchange. I got my start in you know, both of those things that Journalism and Energy at Columbia as an undergraduate. I studied sustainable development at the Earth Institute there and had a you know, pretty strong interest in Energy Policy and Law throughout that. And simultaneously I was working at the student newspaper, The Spectator and 30 years editor of The Spectator. And so I, you know, I kind of wanted to figure out a way to put those two things together and apply to a bunch of, you know, environment adjacent reporting jobs when I graduated and ended up covering energy for the Desert Sun, a newspaper out in the desert in California, just a couple hours outside of Los Angeles where I grew up. So I did that for a couple years, wrote a lot about solar and wind out in the desert. And now the last few years, I've been doing it for the LA Times.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, JD?
JD Morris: So my path is a little less straightforward to energy issues, at least I got my start in journalism at UC Berkeley, where I majored in rhetoric, which is pretty broad, liberal arts education, but the whole time, like Sammy, I was working for the student newspaper. The Daily Cal, I was the managing editor of that my senior year. My first reporting gig was actually covering the casino industry for the Las Vegas Sun for two years. And then I had an opportunity to come back to California to work for the Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa, where I was the local government reporter, but then, unfortunately, had to start covering wildfires up to the big fires, wine country fires up there in 2017. And then, that experience led to me eventually becoming the energy reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2018. Because I think they were looking for somebody who was pretty well versed in wildfire issues given the troubles of PG&E Pacific Gas and Electric. And, you know, I just had a big passion for that subject. And so that's what led to me being the PG&E reporter and the energy reporter for The Chronicle. It's been a pretty wild ride.
Bill Loveless: Yeah. And it's all been tied together all of these calamities, The Wildfires, The Stress on The Grid, The Impact of the Effects of Climate Change. And of course, now we see the pandemic and, and no place in the United States has been undergoing more tragedy from the pandemic and climate change this year, than California. Sammy, put into perspective for us what these calamities have meant for the state and how you as an energy reporter, navigate them?
Sammy Roth: That's an interesting question. I mean, you know, it definitely has been an overwhelming thing for the state government, right, because at the same time, as you have, you know, millions of acres being burned, you know, by fire and people evacuating and entire towns getting the lights shut off to prevent that, just, it builds on top of it, because where there's people going to go where their evacuation centers where you can have social distancing, you know, the air quality, you know, your state was blanketed with smoke and orange skies, as I'm sure JD was experiencing up in the Bay Area, while we have this pandemic that is affecting people's lungs, and there's emerging evidence of all sorts of strains that, you know, breathing worse air quality, you know, worsens your susceptibility to the Coronavirus. So it's I mean, it's been a challenge, you know, for state government and local governments to deal with all this at the same time. I think that I think that, despite some of the big announcements that Governor Newsom has made on climate like, no more gasoline cars after 2035. There's been some long-term goal setting, but I think a lot of the focus on climate in the short term has actually gotten lost because of the pandemic. And I've done various stories on that. And that's something we can we can talk about that that, you know, that the short term, you know, the planning and the infrastructure build that's needed to address the climate side of things to my view has been somewhat getting lost in the response to the pandemic.
Bill Loveless: Do you see JD, can you draw similarities between the two, Climate Change and the pandemic, in terms of impact public policy, public response?
JD Morris: Well, I think I mean, definitely the pandemic being as much of an emergency as it is, it's certainly taken center stage. So I think Sammy's absolutely right that a lot of maybe the focus on climate that would have been there otherwise has not gotten the attention that it would have before. But the 2035 goal that he mentioned, it's certainly a big one. I do think that in California, there's no denying that this is an emergency, climate change, like the pandemic has been, you know, we can't deny that here. With the orange skies, like you mentioned. I mean, I lived through that orange sky day here in San Francisco, and you just having lived here for the past several years, there's just no escaping the very obvious facts that our climate is changing, that things are getting worse. And I think that, you know, every year tragically, that becomes more and more undeniable for more and more Californians. And so I think in the same way that the pandemic has forced, you know, governments and policy makers to confront an emergency in real time, climate is very much becoming that way. And also with just sort of from like an emergency management perspective. You know, they the same emergency operations, people that have had to respond to wildfires throughout governments in California were responding to the Coronavirus at the same time last year, so it sort of forced all of those folks to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time, because, you know, climate change didn't stop for the pandemics. So we still had to deal with massive wildfire evacuations and things like that, while also thinking about, you know, social distancing and not spreading the Coronavirus.
Sammy Roth: You know, just to build on that point for one second. I mean, a story I did earlier in the pandemic that I think is still really relevant is that I mean, both of these things are sort of all of society response type issues in a way that that other challenges aren't. I mean, Coronavirus, it's a public health issue, but it's also an economic crisis, and it's also a social equity crisis. And the same is very true of climate. I mean, these are with the pandemic, we've needed to learn that every sector of society every you know, every government agency and every business institution, you know, needs to be part of, you know, responding to make sure we can cope with this and, you know, I guess maybe one good thing that could come out of it is if we could learn to take that that same type of approach to climate. I mean, that's clearly the kind of approach that's needed.
Bill Loveless: Well, Sammy, what lessons do we, might we learn from public response to the pandemic? When it comes to, what lessons might we learn from climate change? I mean, we see public attitudes vary, you know, depending on communities and people’s lot in life in terms of what they think of various mandates from the state and that sort of thing. I mean, from your observations, is there some, do we learn more about public attitudes, public response to these enormous challenges from this pandemic?
Sammy Roth: Well, maybe two quick observations, and one is that the types of, the types of disruptions to public life that would be needed to appropriately address the climate crisis are not of the immediately disruptive magnitude that you're seeing the Coronavirus. So, yeah, people are up in arms and certain parts of the state and the country about closures of restaurants and stay at home orders and not being able to access professional sporting events. But as you know, disruptive is, as you know, transitioning the energy economy might be in one sense, it's not something that's going to really hit people in their day to day lives in quite the same way. So I'm not sure that that's, you know, quite the kind of warning sign you might think it would be the other one is just the importance of equity and environmental justice. I mean, you know, we're seeing this in California, even with the vaccines right now, not only did COVID hit and continues to hit a lot harder and communities of color and low-income areas where people don't have resources, and in many cases are living, you know, many more people to a house and, you know, have to have to go to service jobs that they, you know, they can't work from home. Um, it's the same with the vaccine rollout where, you know, you're seeing, you know, the white communities and in California that weren't hit as hard as the communities of color have, you know, higher, you know, higher vaccination rates thus far. And so I, you know, that's a serious problem. And I would like to think that there's some lessons that can be learned there for climate. I mean, there's such a focus now from the by the Biden administration on environmental justice, of course, but you know, that that actually needs to be put into practice in a way that, I mean, clearly, we're not dealing with the pandemic, I mean, the, you know, the benefits from cleaner energy and cleaner air quality and, you know, investments in electric vehicles, and things of that nature, you know, really have to be targeted in the way that they're benefiting the people that need them most. And that's something we're not seeing right now with the pandemic, to the extent we should.
Bill Loveless: Right. Well, as mentioned, we have been spending a lot of time talking about the Biden administration in Washington and the changes taking place here in the Capitol, and what they may mean for National Energy and Climate Policy. JD, California has historically set the tone for National Energy Policy. What do these changes in Washington mean for California? And I suppose you could look at it vice versa, right? What more might national policy makers learn from California?
JD Morris: Yeah, and that's sort of what I was going to say. I think it’s sort of a tone shift and then role reversal. I mean, in the Trump administration, California found itself feeling like it was forced really to be going head-to-head with the federal administration over its efforts to kind of challenge our environmental leadership and weaken environmental regulation. And, of course, saw that play out most visibly with, you know, the fuel economy standards and California, as, you know, authority under the Clean Air Act to set stricter rules for auto emissions and sort of the whole legal brouhaha around that issue, where California, of course, was able to pull together several of the major automakers to agree to abide by its standards, but then several of the other ones signed it with the Trump administration. That whole debacle is not going to happen anymore. And California, is now emboldened sort of to lead the way once again, and sort of not have to worry about fighting, you know, the federal government actually be partners with them. And I think it's not a coincidence that all of a sudden GM, which I believe was on the other side, been siding with the Trump administration, over some of the that legal fight, GM has now come out and said that it will be going electric by 2035, which happens to be the same year that California had decided that, you know, it didn't want to be selling gas powered cars anymore so I think you could kind of implicitly already see that impact playing out there.
Bill Loveless: Sammy, is California in the driver's seat here now, when it comes to fuel efficiency standards?
Sammy Roth: I mean, on fuel efficiency standards, it seems like the answer is yes. I mean, one thing to keep in mind is that, California already struck a voluntary agreement prior to the election with several of the automakers which did make some concessions to them. So that might end up being a little bit limiting in how far California can really push the Biden administration in this direction. You know, for just a little bit of a slightly different perspective. I mean, I focus a lot on the power sector, as opposed to transportation. And I mean, California has had this law on the books for two plus years now, 100%, clean electricity by 2045. You know, a bunch of other states have sort of followed suit and adopted that target after California took the plunge. But, you know, what's interesting now is that Biden campaigned actually on an even more aggressive target of 100%, by 2035, which is far more ambitious than California or any other state has set. And I mean, the types of stories that I've been writing about recently and actually have something publishing on this Tuesday, the day this podcast comes out. So it's on my mind is that they're just been all these arguments in California over, how fast can we really do this? I mean, can we do we need to start building out, you know, offshore wind and geothermal now or can we wait till you know, the 2035 2040 timeframe to you know, pull in that extra stuff? That's not just solar PV or onshore wind? You know, when, if at all, do we need a big transmission build out, how fast do we really have to move or can we hold on some of this until later. And the reality is, I think that if Biden is serious about 100%, by 2035 and pushing people in that direction, which is continued to talk about that, since he's taken office, I mean, that's in their materials that, you know. That actually I just think creates a different dynamic where California even might be playing catch up to what the, you know, the Federal Rules are and I mean, frankly, considering the scale of the climate crisis and the types of emissions targets that needs to be met. You know, in some sense, it shouldn't be surprising that even a state like California, you know, there's an argument that they need to be going even faster. So we'll see what happens with that. But I don't think it's quite as simple as you know, California is going to set the in the driver's seat for the rest of the country, I'm not sure that that's quite the case, in every scenario.
Bill Loveless: How is the state doing in terms of meeting its goals for reducing emissions?
Sammy Roth: On the power sector, things are going pretty well, thus far as I think that the electric supply last year was like two thirds, zero carbon. And there are all sorts of challenges still to be worked out there, though, because the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant is closing. And we had rolling blackouts in August. And I mean, there's issues to be resolved. And in terms of overall economy wide, we hit our target of getting emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. And hit that goal a couple of years early, in fact, but the last few years, things have kind of leveled out transportation emissions, at least pre pandemic actually tipped upwards slightly. And that's 40% of all emissions in the state that's by far the largest share. So there's a I mean, this 2035 goal with no gasoline cars, I mean, that would be a big part of actually getting them to continue to go down, but it's not yet clear, you know, if and when that's going to happen.
Bill Loveless: JD you write a lot about PG&E, particularly the struggles the utilities had, with the wildfires, its bankruptcy that was induced by those difficulties and all. How difficult is it for a utility like PG&E such a big one, the biggest one in the state, right?
JD Morris: Oh, yeah, one of the biggest in the country, if not the biggest by some measures yeah.
Bill Loveless: To aim effectively at these emissions reductions’ goals, even as it's trying to figure out, which of its transmission lines or distribution lines are, you know, at risk of causing fires?
JD Morris: Well, I think, you know, for utilities like PG&E from the emissions standpoint, they don’t have much of a choice like the State Public Utilities Commission is able to really make them do what they need to do on that front. And I don't know that the power procurement side has been as much of an issue for them as the kind of all consuming fire reduction challenge that they had before them not to underplay the first one, but that's just stopping their powerlines from starting wildfires has been the number one, you know, sort of the first, second and third thing on the agenda for that company. You know, in recent years, and it really just shows sort of, I think the intractability of that problem and kind of how complex it is that a lot of the changes that they want to make aren't things that reduce the risk, too visibly on the part of most Californians from one year to the next, you know, you've got so many different things that you need to do. And you've also got just sort of a crisis that develops over the course of a decade or more that can't be solved overnight. So they're doing things like installing high definition cameras and weather stations to sort of provide that awareness in terms of spotting new fires developing and also keeping track of conditions when they arise there, they've been investing a ton of money in tree trimming, in system hardening, which is, of course, you know, installing stronger power poles, covering bare wires, moving things underground, things like that I just wrote about how they've developed sort of a new fire risk model. Of course, they've also been turning off the power when they need to, in order to a sort of a last-ditch measure at stopping wildfires, but all of that, you know, despite all of that they have caused fires still in 2018, they caused The Kincade Fire in 2019, which was really bad up in Sonoma County. And, you know, they're under suspicion for having caused The Zogg Fire just last year again in 2020. So, it's a problem that's not really going away, anytime soon. But I do think that they've, at the same time, you know, been working on other climate issues, but it hasn't been the priority for them in the way that it may have been otherwise. And, of course, now, we've also got some folks renewing conversation around Diablo Canyon, of course, our, California’s last Nuclear Power Plant that’s shuttered to close, I don't really, you know, people have been talking, I've heard chatter about whether, you know, California should be keeping that open, you know, in light of the blackouts last year and things like that. I don't really think that's going to happen here, though. I don't think California has the appetite to keep that nuclear power plant open.
Bill Loveless: Well, you know, leadership always matters in setting public policy. And, you know, certainly on the national level now, with a president who is focused or more committed to addressing climate change, you obviously see more sort of action. Governor Gavin Newsom has been a leader and in addressing climate change, since he took office, but his popularity has slipped during the pandemic. And it's possible he could face a recall election, is he likely to maintain his strong stance on climate? And how much does this matter to climate policymaking in California?
JD Morris: I don't know if anything's but I don't know that the recall will have much of an effect on Newsom’s climate policies. I feel like it's sort of a point of pride for him. And I haven't seen much of a sign that he's going to be thinking about walking any of that back. I don't know what you think, Sammy, though?
Sammy Roth: No, I agree completely. I mean, climate is just so deeply baked into California politics. I mean, even Kevin Faulkner, the Republican Former Mayor of San Diego, who's you know, announced his intention to challenge Newsom if there's a recall election. I mean, he was actually a very pro climate mayor in San Diego, who is you know, maybe not celebrated, but definitely worked very closely with you know, climate advocacy Coalition's down there to get ambitious policy passed. So I think that it and as I alluded to there continues to be pressure on Newsom from climate groups and Clean Energy, you know, companies and Coalition's to actually push harder. So I think it's less of a question of, you know, is he going to back off on climate and just more of a question, regardless of the recall of, you know, how, how much more aggressive, you know, will or won't he be willing to get here?
JD Morris: Yeah, I mean, on the one hand, he's come out and done, what had been seen, as, you know, pretty forward-thinking cutting edge environmental policies, like the 2035 you know, gas car ban, but at the same time, like Sammy’s been saying, he, there are a lot of folks in California who think that he's not doing enough and you see that, you know, oil and gas, you know, permits were way up early in his tenure and he's been getting a lot of criticism for that. So, for every sort of bold action he takes there's a lot of people who say that he should have did that or many other bolder things that has not been doing.
Sammy Roth: Yeah, I was going to say oil and gas. There's the setback issue too. I mean, there's been, you know, a really intense campaign from environmental justice activists and communities to require buffer zones around oil and gas development. And you know, there are other states moving in this direction, Colorado is working towards this. But, you know, California has kind of been, you know, stringing this along at the state level for several years now. And Newsom has seemed pretty reluctant to weigh in on that in any public way. So that that's just one example, I mean, it's just not as simple as Newsom, you know, set a long-term target and therefore he's doing everything he's got to do.
Bill Loveless: California has had an Economy-Wide Cap-and-Trade Program since 2013. And I read that with the pandemic and the recession, the program is under review now by the state's top environmental official. Sammy, how has cap-and-trade fared, since its inception, and are there likely to be changes in it.
Sammy Roth: You know, that's an interesting question. I frankly, haven't done that much reporting on cap and trade. But the reason for that is that most of the evidence I've seen on this from people who have looked at what's driving emissions reductions in California have, I think they found that it's, you know, mostly it's not cap and trade, I mean, the renewable energy, you know, mandate, the renewable portfolio standard, I think, has been the really major driver of, you know, emissions reductions through getting, you know, getting coal off the grid, first of all, and, you know, tamping down on gas after that. Cap and trades rule has largely seemed to be, you know, as a fundraising tool for climate and other initiatives, you know, you sell these permits, and then you can use that to do whatever you want to do with it, you know, that rule has certainly been impacted by the pandemic, because these, you know, these options have just returned, you know, much more minimal revenue than usual, because there's just not as much, you know, economic activity, there's been this oil and gas downturn. So I don't know, I guess I don't, you know, Jerry Brown fought very hard for cap and trade, he made this significant legislative deal with, you know, with the oil and gas industry and with others, where he got this program extended. But, frankly, even at the time, I was a little bit confused as to why he was devoting that much political capital to it, because it just it's to me, at least, it's been somewhat in the background of what's actually driving climate in California.
JD Morris: Yeah, that's my understanding, too, I think you can look at sort of the climate programs that has been funding, where the revenue from cap and trade has gone to sort of invest in things that that relate to climate change. But otherwise, I'm I would agree with Sammy on sort of the effectiveness of cap and trade as a climate policy itself. And I feel like that's sort of the, I think that that's what the review is intended to take a look at. But I've not reported on that either. So I'm not totally sure.
Sammy Roth: Yeah. And one of the things to keep in mind there is that part of the benefit of cap and trade was supposed to be, you know, linking together with other outside entities outside of California. And, I mean, ultimately, I think Quebec was the only other government they got and did Quebec back out, I can't even remember, but it did. They definitely didn't get it. They didn't do anything like with RGGI in the northeast, we got a coalition of, you know, a bunch of states involved, it was pretty much just, you know, just California on its own.
JD Morris: Yeah. Yeah. I was reading today that even Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the author of the Markey Waxman, Cap and Trade Bill back that passed the House, not the Senate, but the House back in 2009, in an interview today was saying, he thinks Congress should be focusing more on a standard a Clean Energy Standard, rather than a Cap-and-Trade type approach to climate change.
Sammy Roth: Yeah, I mean, that, that seems to be where the conversation has evolved. I mean, you know, 10 years ago was all about price on carbon and you still have certain stakeholders that are pushing that. But if you look at not just California, but where other leading climate states and in the West and in the northeast, in particular have gone. You know, it's the acronym that I've heard seen or the phrasing that I've seen is standards, investments and justice seems to be where the leading edge of people pushing these policies forward are, you know mandate certain amounts of clean energy, make investments and focus on environmental justice communities, I think, and that seems to be what the Biden administration is focused on, frankly, I mean price on carbon is, you know, somewhere buried in their climate plans, that it's not like the leading integral component.
Bill Loveless: A number of cities and towns across California have instituted restrictions on installing natural gas service and new commercial and residential buildings. It's an issue that's been getting a lot of coverage in your papers and from you guys. It's met resistance from gas utilities and some of their workers. Is this a trend that will continue to grow in California and, you know, what, what impact might it have?
Sammy Roth: So I've been covering this quite a lot. I definitely think It's a trend, it's not going anywhere, the list of cities and counties now in California that have either outright banned gas hookups or, you know, passed a building code that strongly encourages all electric construction is 42 cities and counties now and that's a list that continues to grow. It seems pretty likely from what I've learned that the state of California and its building code will probably go in that direction, not in the next update, which is 2023. But most likely in the one after that, which is 2026. They seem to be building towards that at a state level. And this has already been spreading to other states. I mean, Seattle, just voted to pass the policy that moves in this direction. Denver's looking at it, New York City, you know, Mayor de Blasio wants to Ban gas hookups in new construction by 2030 just came out. There's been action in in Massachusetts on this. And, and I think that, you know, another telling indicator is the response from the gas utility industry, I mean, they've been promoting bills and state legislatures across the country that would prohibit local governments from doing this. So they think four states have already passed those bills and they're 10 more that have been proposed just in the last few months. So they're seeing this going elsewhere and trying to get out ahead and put themselves in a strong position where when the activism gets to those other states, where they can, hopefully have something in place that prevents it from really taking off. So, I mean, when you look at, you know, building emissions, that's a, you know, a pretty significant chunk of carbon dioxide, it's not the same as you know, transportation or the electric sector, but it's up there probably similar in size to like industrial emissions, for instance, which, you know, which get a decent amount of focus. So, I would be surprised if this wasn't the fight that we're hearing more about all over the country in the next few years.
Bill Loveless: You're seeing it up around the Bay Area, as well, JD?
JD Morris: Yeah. I mean, it started here with, with Berkeley, I think I forget if it was last year, 2019. And they were the first city in the country to pass an ordinance like that and it spread very rapidly. All around you've now got San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, many, pretty much all around the Bay Area policies like this are in place. One interesting tidbit, you know, last year, though, you did see was up in Windsor, in Sonoma County, they actually had to walk their electric building ordinance back mainly because of a lawsuit with a developer who had challenged them on that. But the sense that I got when that was done when they sort of had to walk it back, because the settlement was that it wasn't because they, you know, didn't want to do this anymore. It was really because given the pandemic constraints on their local budget, spending all that money, you know, fighting a very expensive lawsuit just wasn't a decision that they felt like they could justify at the time and one of the leading council members did express a desire to come back with it with another ordinance that did the same thing. So I think even where you've seen a setback like that, in the Bay Area, you still see clear signs that this is something that the Bay Area wants to do and the direction that it wants to keep moving toward and I don't think that's going to go away anytime.
Sammy Roth: One other comment on this topic, if you don't mind, Bill, I mean, one reason why it's been somewhat easier for this to take off in the Bay Area is that you know, Pacific Gas and Electric, it's right there in the name, they do gas and they do electric. So, you know, they've been pretty much okay with these policies going forward, because they went either way, you know, they get to build out their electric grid and reap the financial returns from that from ratepayers. In Southern California, we've got, you know, two different utilities, we've got Southern California Gas, and we've got at Southern California Edison, which does electricity and SoCal Gas, which is the biggest gas distribution utility in the country who has been, you know, very, very aggressively fighting these policies. So there are fewer of them that have moved forward here. And I think that's another thing to look out for nationally. I mean, ultimately, this becomes a conflict between gas and electric utilities, where so much of climate policy and discussion and activism these days focuses on electrification, electrifying transportation, electrifying buildings, electrifying whatever industrial and uses you can find. So, I think in the same way that you've seen, you know, electric utilities and the oil industry start to come into conflict over you know, auto emissions policy, you're going to start to see the same thing with the gas industry where these folks are pretty much in competition now.
Bill Loveless: We spoke before environmental justice and it's a topic getting a lot of attention, not only in California, but nationally. You know, I've read where there's, a recent appointment in the California Air Resources Board of a woman named Chanel Fletcher would be responsible for overseeing environmental justice and racial equality issues. Just she's new to the position. So I don't know how much we can say about her just now. But the topic generally environmental justice, how is that likely to play in Policymaking in California on energy and climate going forward?
Sammy Roth: Well, I mean, on the energy side, there are a couple of areas that we've talked about where you see it, I mean, on this idea of building electrification and banning gas hookups, justice is a key issue. It's an issue of, what is the cost of this going to be? And, you know, if you're requiring, you know, housing to, you know, to have electric appliances instead of gas, is that something that low-income communities can afford? And if not, what can you do to help them with that. It's an issue with, with gas plants on the power grid, where so much of the focus has been on coal and these communities that have been burdened by coal pollution, you know, gas obviously doesn't have the same pollution burden as coal. But that's been an increasing focus in California, as it looks to transition away from the pretty big chunk of the electric supply, that's still gas where are these plants located? Are they leaking? You know, I've covered, I mean, there's the Aliso Canyon situation, which was a pretty big one, you know, gas storage field that leak, but they're gas plants that are typically located in these, you know, these disadvantaged communities. So that's a key area. And I think, you know, the investments as well and this is going to be a conversation nationally, as you as you spend all this money on, you know, electric vehicle incentives and rebates, and on building electric vehicle charging infrastructure. And, you know, where are you locating clean energy facilities? And what types of jobs are they creating? And who's getting those jobs? And what are the jobs pay? And are they unionized? I mean, those are the key issues that you're seeing in California, and the key issues that Biden's going to be seeing as well. I mean, it exists across every area of the energy transition.
JD Morris: Yeah, I think that's I think that's exactly right. And I, you know, you see it play out, in so many ways, even up here in the Bay Area as well. I mean, environmental justice has been a big concern in terms of, you know, which, you know, communities in places like Richmond that are located right near a bunch of refineries and places like that. So which communities are bearing the first and often worst impacts of or continued reliance on fossil fuels? But also, you know, kind of like Sammy was saying, like, who gets to benefit first and foremost from these clean energy projects, and where they're located and who's actually served by them. I just think that those questions are constantly asked here with sort of everything that's done on the environmental front, I don't think that that is going to, is going to go anywhere. And I think we've already seen from Leann Randolph, the incoming new head of the California Air Resources Board, that's going to be a priority for her at that agency. And yeah, I just think that's going to continue to be a top issue for California. But I think another thing that the state is sort of being forced to look at very aggressively is the question of, they always call it a just transition for communities in places like Bakersfield, which is one of the places where I grew up, that is very heavily reliant on the oil industry that is a pillar of the economy down there, it's just absolutely embedded into the fabric of the place and the jobs that people have. And a lot of those folks are skeptical of this. And they and their leaders don't want to move as fast as the state wants to move, but at some point, they might have to and what does that look like? And how do you address that in a region where that industry is so dominant and it maybe doesn't want to move as fast as the state's going to move, but the state's gonna make it happen anyway, like, what does that look like? And how does that affect people's lives and livelihoods? There, I think, is certainly a big question on my mind.
Sammy Roth: Yeah. I mean, I think I would completely agree with JD that this is going to be a huge issue in the oil and gas communities in California because people forget, you know, sometimes this is still a significant oil and gas state, but it's also an issue in the major metro areas. I mean, I've been I've been talking about gas plants and gas in buildings. I mean, when Mayor Garcetti in Los Angeles announced a couple years ago that he was going to shut down not immediately but within the next decade, these three gas fired power plants, he ended up facing this, you know, highly this very expensive TV ad campaign against him by municipal utility workers who work at those gas plants and you know they gave him power over that they held up the approval of, you know, a record cheap, solar powered purchase disagreement over their frustration with his decision on gas plants, which was kind of a giant local political controversy. And you say the same thing with the gas utility workers. It's not just you know, the company. So Cal gas, I mean, the people who work there have been right out on the frontlines protesting these local electric building policies. So when Biden and Gavin Newsom and Garcetti and whoever else talks about we're going to create, you know, millions of clean energy jobs. You know, there's still this really significant question of, you know, is there a direct line between, you know, communities that are getting pushed out of work and fossil fuels to the new stuff that's being created or is that a total disconnect?
Bill Loveless: Right. Yeah. There's a lot to think about there. Well, it's a beat of the immense importance now as concerns over climate change grow and commitments to finding promising solutions continue to grow. And each of you, as well as your colleagues at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle are doing a great job explaining these things to the public. Thanks, guys. Thanks, Sammy. Thanks, JD for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.
Sammy Roth: Thanks, Bill. It's been great.
JD Morris: Thank you for having me.
Bill Loveless: And for more information on Columbia Energy Exchange and the Center on Global Energy Policy, find us on the web at energypolicy.columbia.edu and on social media @ColumbiaUEnergy and if you have a minute, give us a rating on your favorite podcast platform. For Columbia Energy Exchange. I'm Bill Loveless. We'll be back again next week with another conversation.