EPA’s Clean Power Plan, proposed today, is a roadmap for cutting dangerous pollution from power plants, and as with any map, there are many roads to follow. For this journey, states are in the driver’s seat and can steer themselves in the direction most beneficial to their people and to the state’s economy, as long as they show EPA they are staying on the map and ultimately reaching the final destination.
As usual, California got off to a head start, explored the territory, blazed a lot of new trails, and left a number of clues on how states can transition to a lower carbon future, and California’s successes are one proven, potential model for other states to follow. The state’s legacy of clean energy and energy efficiency progress is a big reason the White House and EPA could roll out the most significant national climate change action in U.S. history.
Way back in the mid-1970s, when Governor Jerry Brown did his first tour of duty, California pioneered what remains one of the most effective tools for cutting pollution and saving money: energy efficiency. The state’s efficiency standards, largely aimed at buildings and appliances, have saved Californians $74 billion and avoided the construction of more than 30 power plants. All those energy savings have translated into California residential electricity bills that are 25% lower than the national average. What’s more, California produces twice as much economic output per kilowatt hour of electricity usage as the national average.
While energy efficiency has done yeoman’s work pulling costs down, reducing the need for dirty energy, and supercharging the state’s clean energy economy, California has also brought bold approaches to cleaning up its power supply. The California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires 33% of all electricity sold in California to come from renewable sources by 2020, the most aggressive of the 29 states with RPS measures on the books.
In 2006, California enacted Senate Bill 1368, a groundbreaking law that set the nation’s first greenhouse gas emissions standard for power plants, a forerunner of EPA’s Clean Power Plan announced today. The same year, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) instituted a statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions, requiring California to return to 1990 levels by 2020. Power plants are capped under AB 32’s successful cap-and-trade program, another precedent that set the table for EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which establishes a national limit on power plant pollution for the first time. This robust suite of policies resulted in California cutting carbon pollution from in-state and imported electricity by 16% between 2005 and 2010-2012.
Given this track record, it’s no surprise that Californians strongly support pollution limits on power plants. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) 2013 survey, 76% of Californians support “stricter emissions limits on power plants,” and 65% of survey respondents say that California should act immediately to cut emissions and not wait for the economy to improve, a record-high level of support. The survey also shows that Californians believe the economy will improve because of strong environmental regulations, and that you don’t have to have one or the other. Data corroborating this view continues to pile up: the state now has its lowest unemployment rate since 2008 even with increasingly stringent environmental policies.
California is proof positive that states can fashion creative policies that improve their environmental and economic bottom line, and that’s exactly what will be needed to make EPA’s Clean Power Plan a durable and resounding success. California’s roadmap includes a variety of alternative routes, giving other states a chance to adopt or adapt them to meet the needs of their own unique journeys toward a healthier future.
This commentary originally appeared on our California Dream 2.0 blog.