California Leads the Way Forward, Again

While many members of Congress remain wary of the costs of reducing climate change pollution, they need look no further than the largest state economy in our nation for a perfect example of how to take action.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have reached their highest levels in at least 800,000 years. At the same time, Californians have seized the opportunity to increase our use of renewable energy and clean technology, create green jobs, and grow our economy all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

When I was in the California State Senate, we ushered in a new era of environmental protection and economic growth by passing A.B. 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

That historic legislation has set California on a path to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. California is meeting those emissions-reduction goals, and the economy is growing. Now California has the opportunity to again lead the United States in innovative climate change legislation by setting strong greenhouse gas reduction goals through 2050.

Last month, California state senators proposed bold and sweeping amendments to A.B. 32 that would cut California's petroleum use in half and vastly expand renewable energy sources by 2030. The goal is to bring net greenhouse gas emissions down 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Yes, you read that correctly. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent.

These reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can only mean good things for California's air quality and the respiratory health of our citizens. Southern California is known for its smog -- and this smog is largely made up of pollutants from fossil fuel combustion. However, smog has been reduced considerably since the 1990s. For example, the city of Long Beach, in partnership with the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, has significantly reduced nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter by cleaning up their diesel equipment and vehicle emissions. According to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, this improvement of air quality in Long Beach and four other communities around Los Angeles has led to a significant decrease in the percent of children with reduced lung function; overall, we have gone from 7.9 percent of children with clinically low lung function in 1995 to 3.6 percent of children with clinically low lung function in 2010. This laudable improvement demonstrates that we can expect the respiratory health of our communities to continue to improve as we reduce emissions.

Communities across California are also benefiting economically from our cap-and-trade program. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund invests billions of dollars of sustained funding in vital climate projects, with at least 25 percent of fund investments directed to disadvantaged communities. This fund ensures continued investments and innovation in greenhouse gas reductions, sustainable community development, and energy efficiency.

Unfortunately, but not unpredictably, these proposals are coming under fire by fossil fuel interests and climate change deniers. Just last year, oil companies spent $9 million lobbying California lawmakers. State legislators must not cave to these interests at the expense of our health and environment. Since the Global Warming Solutions Act was implemented, California has regained all jobs lost during the recession and has grown at a faster rate than the United States for the past three years for which the Department of Commerce has data. Green technology is adding jobs faster than any other sector. This record shows that economic growth and emissions reductions can coexist.

I applaud the progress that California has made in reducing its carbon emissions, and I hope that these new proposals in the California State Senate will move forward. Initiatives like these that promote environmental protection and responsible economic growth are the innovative solutions that are needed to solve this global problem.