I live in California, and I love it. But I can’t deny the likelihood that Truman Capote may have had it right when he claimed, “It’s a scientific fact that if you stay in California you lose one point of your IQ every year.” And our long-term residents in the California legislature may be proving this once again.
There is a bill, SB-350 “Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015”, that has passed committee review and is headed for likely passage in the Senate. The goals of the bill seem well-intentioned and they exhibit a California characteristic of leading the nation toward a safer, self-sustaining environment. These goals are to achieve the following by 2030: (1) a 50% reduction in petroleum used in motor vehicles; (2) a doubling of the energy efficiency of all existing buildings; and (3) generating 50% of total retail sales of electricity from renewable resources.
This is ambitious but no one achieves great things without great goals. But wait a minute. A close reading of the actual bill reveals something a bit different, and in my mind anyway, a bit wacko. Let’s say, California-style wacko.
Notice that the terminology used above refers to “goals”. But when you read the text you discover that the 50% goals have transmuted into requirements. In fact earlier drafts did phrase these as goals and that was changed. There are other provisions that require technical evaluations to see if this is feasible. Am I the only one who notices that this is backwards?
In other sections there are requirements to evaluate cost impacts. Nice, but what then? There are no restrictions based on these cost impacts. I suppose whatever they are, they are. It’s good to know what disaster is about the befall you, but don’t you think it is better not to undertake anything without first assuring that the cost can be borne without winning the lottery?
Take the motor vehicle provision for example. The plan envisions switching over to 70% all-electric vehicles, with the full required refueling infrastructure that this implies. Keep in mind that this change would effectively bankrupt much of the current gas station infrastructure. I suppose some stations could switch over to becoming gigantic electrical sockets but I don’t see how that would work. Charging takes much more time than just siphoning gas into your gas tank. We’re talking hours rather than minutes. Once this new regime is in place, remaining actual gas stations would become few and far between so that the other 30% of cars and all interstate vehicles would have to take their chances on California highways. Originally, the bill’s authors considered allowing hybrid or alternate fuel source cars but that was edited out of the current draft. No half measure here!
Massively switching our electricity generation to low-carbon emission methods is technically feasible. All we have to do is go the whole hog on nuclear power. But that must start immediately and on a massive scale, and the review process must be accelerated tenfold. Any other approach is just a dream. Do you like that prospect? I don’t.
It’s all a bit weird when you consider it. For California to single-handedly take on this venture completely on its own is breathtaking. It is equivalent to the United States unilaterally trying to solve world-wide pollution without any other countries participating. Is it conceivable that we could set up our own little ecological utopia in California? Everything is connected. We have adjacent states with which we have extensive commerce. We have international commerce too. All would be impacted. The bill makes no mention of setting up barriers on our interstate highways to bar cars and trucks from elsewhere. But without that, the rules are meaningless other than greatly inconveniencing our residents. It is true that California has been a leader before in setting gas mileage and auto fuel standards, but that pales before this vast undertaking.
I could see a bill directed at achieving the maximum change that is technically feasible and economically sound, but who knows if that means 50%? I am not entirely sure that this isn’t some kind of enormous practical joke. If so, they certainly took me in. Perhaps the idea of establishing a fixed target for improvement is that it is the only way to ensure action. In any case, it is self-limiting. For example, you could pass a bill saying the there shall be no more forest fires that threaten our homes. That won’t make it happen of course, so what’s the harm?