Green Business

Dude, California Totally Leads U.S. on Energy and Environment

| by NRDC

The moment Senator Dianne Feinstein opened the inaugural ceremony, I had a sense of coming home. After all, there were two California women (Feinstein and Speaker Nancy Pelosi) accompanying President Obama down the stairs and they, along with lots of Californians, are now in a position to help lead our nation away from the mistakes of the past, particularly when it comes to energy and the environment. 

Because while environmental leadership has been missing in action in the nation's capital for the past 8 years, we've been busy here in the states - and there's no place we've been busier than here in California. California's economy has grown at a healthy pace (we're now the 8th or 7th largest economy in the world, depending on how France is doing on any given day) while at the same time, we've strengthened our energy, environmental and public health protections. And we've learned a lot of valuable lessons about balancing economic and environmental considerations along the way.

Because of California's progressive energy programs, we now use less electricity per capita than anyone else in the nation. Our energy grid is less reliant on fossil fuels and uses more renewable energy than average.

And we've taken steps to protect our snowpack and coastal economy from the worst effects of global warming by enacting the first law in the world to control greenhouse gas emissions from cars, setting a clean electricity production standard, capping total greenhouse gas emissions, designing a low carbon fuel standard, aiming for aggressive renewable energy goals and linking land use to global warming policy, among other new ideas. Many other states, hungry for action, have taken matters into their own hands and adopted similar policies.

As a coastal state, we're trying to take better care of the ocean here, too. We started by setting up the first statewide network of parks in the sea or "marine reserves." Then when two national bipartisan committees called for a new era of ocean conservation, while Washington, D.C., turned a deaf ear, California heeded the call for improved governance and set up the first Ocean Protection Council. Now other states like New York have set these up, too.

These are just a few examples of what states have been up to.  So now that there's new leadership in Washington, D.C., there are workable models and active coalitions of business and local government and labor and environmental and community groups all ready to help move a productive agenda at the national level.

California's Congressional leaders have been paying attention to the progress in our state and they are set to lead. Fortunately, they're in the right place at the right time.  Not only has President Obama tapped some top California talent like Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis (LCV* score 85%) and CEQ head Nancy Sutley, but our senators and representatives are in leadership positions that make a difference.

Both the Senate Environment Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committees - the two committees that will design federal global warming legislation - are headed by veteran California environmental heroes - Sen. Barbara Boxer (LCV 100%) and Rep. Henry Waxman (LCV 100%) respectively.

They know how California has managed to have a strong economy while making history fighting climate change and they know how to translate that nationally. Sen. Feinstein (LCV 100%) not only heads up the Senate Intelligence Committee, when it comes to the environment, she chairs the committee with the purse strings - the Interior Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

And of course Speaker Pelosi has a long history of working to protect the environment.  The district she represents used to be represented by the late Phil Burton - father of some of the most magnificent national parks and wilderness areas in the country. The legacy of that seat lives on. She named environmentally savvy George Miller to chair the House democratic policy committee. 

Rep. Sam Farr (LCV 92%) has been an ocean champion since he was on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. Now his Oceans 21 legislation, an innovative approach to ocean conservation, has a real chance. Californians have sent environmental leaders to Congress. We have 56 members of Congress - the biggest delegation by far and nearly 60% of them have LCV scores 85% or higher (16 of them perfect 100s - Boxer, Feinstein, Berman, Capps, Davis, Eshoo, Harman, Honda, Lee, Lofgren, Sanchez, Schiff, Stark, Tauscher, Waters and Tauscher).

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California's diversity and size enable us to field a hard-hitting team in Washington.  Now they have a chance to bring some light to national environmental leadership.  Ride on dudes!

*LCV (League of Conservation Voters http://www.lcv.org/scorecard/ )