CA must commit to ambitious climate targets, infrastructure will follow

STATE AFFAIRS: Bans that begin to phase out dependence on fossil fuel infrastructure could help spur transition to more sustainable future

Illustration of a gloomy sunset over an industrial landscape covered in debris and fracking equipment
Jericho Tang/Staff

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Last week, a bill that would have banned fracking and other methods of oil and gas extraction in California by 2035 failed to pass out of the state senate committee. 

Those who voted against Senate Bill 467 argued that California, which continues to rely heavily on fossil fuel infrastructure and the jobs it provides, is simply not ready to move away from oil and gas. 

They’re right: California does not yet have the sustainable infrastructure necessary to ditch fossil fuels. But legislation such as SB 467 — which would only go into full effect 14 years from now, with programs to help facilitate equitable shifts in labor and industry along the way — might be the most effective way California can seriously prepare for such a transition.

Climate scientists worldwide agree the next decade of climate action will be critical in averting environmental catastrophe. The prognosis is more than dire, and yet, policy in California hasn’t matched the urgency of science.

In 2018, California committed to 100% carbon-free electricity in the state by 2045. But when it’s come to legislation in line with this goal — policies that would allow California to take real strides toward carbon neutrality — lawmakers have been far less ambitious.

Over the past few years, a slew of important climate-oriented legislation in California, including housing policies and bills promoting an expansion of renewable energy, has failed to pass. 

SB 467, which would have also required buffer zones between oil wells and homes and schools — an environmental justice issue that disproportionately impacts the health of Black and Latinx communities — is the latest casualty.

If state lawmakers today can’t agree to phase out even just a small portion of the state’s fossil fuel infrastructure by 2035 — already beyond the window allotted by scientists — what progress toward sustainable infrastructure can we expect to make in that time? 

Crucially, a long-term ban such as the one posed by SB 467 sets California on the right track and removes the possibility of perpetual delay — a luxury our climate can ill afford.

While operating on a smaller scale than the state of California, the city of Berkeley has implemented bolder climate targets, paired with action-oriented sustainable infrastructure initiatives. 

The city aims to decarbonize by 2035 and has recently explored banning the sale of gas-powered cars by 2027 — both timelines falling well before similar statewide commitments. To buttress these goals, Berkeley has made sustainable infrastructure integral to public policy across city departments. The Electric Mobility Roadmap, for example, provides 58 specific strategies to help Berkeley develop a fossil fuel-free transportation system.

California has long been considered a leader of progressive climate action in the United States. But the failure of SB 467 sends an important message: If California isn’t ready to decisively shift away from fossil fuels, it sure as hell better get ready.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.