Time to Clean Up Our Act

By Alec Laube

Source: States Chronicle

To put it plainly, trying to regulate business for the sake of helping the environment is a balance that we have yet to find here in the Golden State. Pro-business groups argue that too much regulation will drive manufacturers away from our state. This would ruin our economy as we currently have the greatest manufacturing employment and output of any state in the union.

On the other side of the coin, environmentalists stress that the environment is not something that can just be forgotten; that the environment is a one-time good that we cannot allow to reach a point beyond recovery.

In an attempt to find an agreement that can help save the environment, but not create too much contention between manufacturers and the state legislature, State Senate President Pro Tem. Kevin de León introduced SB 350 on the California State Senate floor in early 2015. After much debate and compromise, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on Oct. 7th.

The bill includes several immense reforms intended to help conserve the environment and reduce energy dependence on non-renewable sources.

The major focus of the bill is to improve energy efficiency and to push towards renewable energy sources. Under SB 350, 50 percent of the state's electricity must come from renewable energy resources by 2030. Currently, the 2016 goal is 25 percent. More than doubling our renewable energy resources by 2030 is definitely a sign that we have made huge progress as a state.

Furthermore, lessening our reliance on oil and other non-renewable energy sources is a must, as oil reserves on Earth are rapidly depleting each year. We may still have massive quantities, but starting the transition towards alternatives now is critical, so that a strong foundation exists when oil reserves begin to lessen.

Also, using alternatives in addition to coal and petroleum will likely create a more stable energy market in which having more sources of energy lowers our reliance on any single source. It’s a fairly generally known concept that having more of something is almost always positive. In this case, having the ability to produce greater levels of energy, while increasing efficiency, is likely to reduce incidents of power outages and also hopefully reduce the cost of energy because the newer energy sources add diversity and competition to the market.

Another major point for SB 350 is that it mandates for a doubling of our energy efficiency by 2030. To do this, the bill promotes energy plans that reduce energy use during peak hours. The ultimate goal is to reduce energy consumption so that we burn less coal and do less damage to the environment. This is one of the provisions that might see a little blowback from the state. We are a very big state with very big energy needs, including during peak hours like noon to 7 p.m. on weekends. There are already incentives in place for residential users to have cheaper plans that cost more only during these occasional peak hours. It ultimately comes down to how this section is implemented. If it drives prices up for most plans, it would be difficult to find someone willing to back the law.

This bill is a huge step towards protecting the environment and finding a balance between protection and regulation of corporations. The sections on energy efficiency and alternatives are especially promising for guaranteeing a stable energy market for the future. Originally, the bill had a section that mandated a lessened reliance on oil, but this section was struck down during negotiations. We need to see more regulations of this kind. It was rather disappointing that the section on weaning our reliance on oil was taken out as a result of compromise, but this was a shot-in-the-dark provision that could have been added as a tool for negotiation. This means that de León probably knew that this provision would face large opposition from both the Republican members of the state legislature and many Democratic members who represent districts in areas like the central valley that draw a fair amount of business from oil companies. It was definitely ambitious if he thought that reducing the use of oil in a state like California would be a popular idea.

SB 350 isn’t perfect, but it is a step in the right directions towards finding the balance between sustaining the environment and regulating industry.