Are California’s Climate Change Goals Too Extreme?

David Kersten
David Kersten is an independent political consultant who lives in the Bay Area. Kersten is also an adjunct professor of public budgeting at the University of San Francisco.

Perhaps the biggest looming threat to California’s economy is the state’s pursuit of unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable “climate change” goals.

While polling consistently shows that majorities California voters support environmental policies aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change, many of these same polls indicate that support for such policies drops dramatically if people are told about the costs in terms of higher energy and higher gas prices.

Since the early 2000s, the State of California has pursued an increasingly aggressive climate change policy agenda that appears to be reaching a tipping point where the economic costs will begin to dramatically outweigh the benefits, absent some form of corrective policy action.

Allan Zaremberg, president and chief executive officer of the California Chamber of Commerce, recently wrote a thoughtful piece for Calmatters.org in which he cautioned the new Governor, Legislature, and California Air Resources against pursuing extreme climate control policies that in effect would increase gas and energy prices by another 60% or more by 2030 (in addition to existing cost increase projections from baseline greenhouse gas policies and energy inflation rates).

Californians already pay among the highest in the nation gas and energy prices, which are already slated to go even higher in the wake of the impending PG&E bankruptcy.

No major stakeholders in California are saying that we should roll-back thoughtful climate change regulations, similar to the policies that have been pursued by the Trump Administration at the federal level.

What industry leaders and key stakeholders are saying is that California needs to pursue a middle path that is workable and effective, but also affordable over both the short and long-term.

Furthermore, the climate changes policies on the books and the increasingly “command and control” practices at the California Air Resources Control board (CARB) are approaching a point where skyrocketing energy price increases will begin impacting California consumers, with a disproportionate amount of the burden falling on low and middle-income households.

To illustrate, Zaremberg is projecting these “command and control” politics at the CARB to cause a 36-cent increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline, on top of the recent double digital state gas tax increases, and double digital increases in both natural gas and electricity gas rates.

“These increases are on top of the costs already assumed under an unadorned cap-and-trade regime, which already anticipates, by 2030, adding more than 50 cents a gallon to gasoline, and hiking utility bills by more than 25%,” Zaremberg wrote.

If policymakers and regulators actually took the time to painstakingly calculate and convey the impact of all of these price increases and their impact to the average California consumer, polling suggests that these policies are not something that would be supported by a majority of the California public—at least not to this extreme degree.

Furthermore, as we approach 2030 and beyond under the current climate regulator regime the costs and impact on California consumers, businesses and industry are projected to climate even higher approaching even something akin to what can only be described as an “economic Armageddon” (i.e. a partial or complete collapse of the California economy).

For example, one “zero carbon” policy that is currently on the books in California requires the use of 100% renewable energy by December 31, 2045—effectively banning the commercial use of carbon-based energy in California, according to the bill analysis of SB 100 (De Leon, 2018).

If implemented today, the economic impacts of such a “zero carbon” policy would be catastrophic and lead to the wholesale collapse of California’s economy and the immediate impoverishment of the vast majority of its population.

In the early 2000s, the late California State Senator Dick Mountjoy (R) would often discuss a “boiling frog analogy” on the floor of the California State Senate which says that if you put a frog in boiling water the frog will save himself by immediately jumping out, but if you slowly boil the water the frog will be boiled alive.

Furthermore, if such a “zero carbon” would lead to the immediate and unequivocal death of California’s economy today, why would the State of California choose to slowly implement such a policy in the run up to 2045 and expect a different result?

Proponents of SB 100 and a “zero carbon” energy regime, state that we must set the goal in order to achieve it, even though there does not currently exist the technology or ability of the economy and California energy sector to support the state’s economy solely through the use of renewable energy resources—not even close.

The State of California and its political leadership should consider pumping the brakes on “extreme” climate change policies and goals that have set the state on a collision course with economic disaster.

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