Delegation to Paris COP 21

California shows what climate equity looks like

December 15, 2015

Kevin de León

California’s groundbreaking clean energy and climate policies have long been recognized by world leaders as a model of climate action, and last week in Paris for the COP 21, they were on full display.   Leaders from nations large and small gathered in Le Bourget, the conference hall where negotiations were being held, to learn more about our commitment to addressing climate change while also protecting and investing in our most vulnerable communities.

The issue of equity for the most disproportionately impacted populations around the globe was at the center of the Paris negotiations. That’s because international leaders recognize that climate change is an issue of civil rights and economic justice. As Martin Luther King III writes in a recent opinion piece, “Make no mistake, the injustice of climate change and the pollution that fuels it are among this century's most debilitating engines of inequality.”

President Obama has continually emphasized the challenge of climate change and air pollution for low-income and communities of color, as well as the opportunities and benefits that climate action creates. In an address earlier this year, the President noted:

“Today, an African-American child is more than twice as likely to be hospitalized from asthma; a Latino child is 40 percent more likely to die from asthma.  So if you care about low-income, minority communities, start protecting the air that they breathe.” (Remarks by the President, August 3, 2015)

As the President points out, pollution from freeways, power plants, refineries, ports and other sources disproportionately harm the poor and people of color, especially children and the elderly. A recent study by the national NAACP found that 40% of the 6 million Americans living in close proximity to coal-fired power plants are people of color.

Within California, people of color are more likely to be near those facilities with the highest emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants such as particulate matter. Overall, people of color experience over 70 percent more particulate matter emissions within two and a half miles from the facilities listed as major GHG emitters.

So it should come as no surprise that disadvantaged communities in California strongly support climate action, including the specific goals of SB 350, which we signed into law earlier this year. According to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 88% of African Americans surveyed believe climate change poses a serious threat to our state’s future and quality of life, along with 88% of Asians and 90% of Latinos. At least seven in ten adults favored each component of SB 350 – which will put California on track to generate half of electricity from renewable sources and double our energy efficiency by 2030, while also significantly expanding electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

This new law and the comprehensive climate policy framework that California has devised over the last decade and a half have also created significant economic benefits for communities of color. Many of the jobs that have already been created by our climate policies and that will be created by SB350 are middle class jobs that don’t require a college education, making them more accessible to our young people of color.

The UC Berkeley Labor Center estimates that extending the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50% by 2030 will create 354,000 to 429,000 direct jobs from the construction of new renewable generation capacity.  Including the indirect economic effects, the Berkeley researchers forecast up to 1,067,000 job years will be created by 2030.

We are also taking significant steps to make clean energy accessible to all Californians, not just the wealthy and privileged who can afford to be early adopters. Thanks to SB 535, which I authored in 2012, 25% of all revenue generated by our cap and trade program will be reinvested in the communities most impacted by pollution, poverty, and climate change. With SB 1275, the Charge Ahead initiative, we are helping low-income families transition into electric or hybrid vehicles, which will help save money while also cleaning up our air.

In Paris, I participated in a panel with representatives from India and Kenya who are leading innovative approaches to use clean energy that empower impoverished communities. They are succeeding at methods that use solar-powered batteries to light street vendors’ carts and homes, or use solar power for water-filtration systems, proving that sustainable energy creates economic opportunity in local villages and brings about peace in regions suffering from poverty. The underlying strategy is clear: make clean energy the mainstream. This is a winning proposition, both for the health of our families and for the health of our economy – and world leaders are starting to take note.

Statement from CA Senate Leader Kevin de León on COP21 Agreement

December 14, 2015

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León issued the following statement:

"To fight climate change and clean the air we breathe we need strong political will and diverse coalitions to confront powerful interests that want to keep the status quo. It gives me tremendous hope to see governments from around the world unite and build a cleaner and sustainable future for our children together. This durable agreement will provide certainty in the market and unleash clean energy businesses that will reshape our economy. I was proud to be part of the California delegation in Paris and share our vision for the new economy of tomorrow with the world."

SB 185: Investing with our values and for the next generation

December 10, 2015

Kevin de León 

I’m proud to say that California is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to addressing the challenge of climate change. With the support of and a broad coalition of dedicated grassroots activists, California joined the growing ranks of the global divestment movement and passed SB 185, which is the first measure of its type in the nation.

SB 185 directs California’s state pension funds—the largest in the nation—to divest their thermal coal holdings, and prevents any future investment in coal.

Together these funds manage nearly half a trillion dollars in assets that will soon be coal-free. This is a massive step forward for the divestment movement, which now includes more than 500 institutions representing over $3.4 trillion in assets that have made some form of divestment commitment, according to and Divest-Invest, two organizations coordinating the growing movement.

SB 185 aligns our investments policies with our values.  Since 2007, the state of California has prohibited our utilities from investing in new coal power in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

We know that coal combustion for energy is the leading cause of global climate change. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, “coal plants are the nation’s top source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the primary cause of global warming.” A typical coal plant generates 3.5 million tons of CO2 per year, and the U.S. had over 1300 active generating units in 2012,

Coal combustion is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution that contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma and emphysema, along with a wide variety of terrible illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. 

And aside from the health and environmental hazards it creates, coal is a risky investment that is rapidly losing value. The market value of America’s four largest coal companies has fallen 95% in five years. And the decline is accelerating – by year’s end, the U.S. will have shuttered 12.8 GW of coal-fired power – four times as much capacity as we shut down last year.

The writing is on the wall – our policies, technologies and global markets are all moving in concert away from coal as an energy source. So why continue to invest our public employees’ retirement funds into this fading industry, especially given the multitude of health and environmental concerns it creates? 

California’s is a world leader in the fight against climate change. Certainly, we can find more sustainable and profitable investments for our public pension funds that better suit our values. 

Pro Tem De León Joins Hundreds of U.S. State and Local Lawmakers to Support 50 Percent Clean Energy Nationwide

December 9, 2015

Citing Congress’ refusal to take action on climate change, California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León has joined more than 300 state and local lawmakers from across the nation who have signed a letter to President Obama supporting the goal of drawing 50 percent of the nation’s energy from renewable sources by 2030.

The 50 percent goal echoes California’s recently enacted law that mandates half the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

At a press conference in Paris on Tuesday, Senator De León (D-Los Angeles) applauded the efforts of subnational governments to reduce and adapt to the risks posed by climate change but stressed the dire need for aggressive action by the federal government.

“California’s example shows that climate action can be an engine for broadly shared economic prosperity,” said Senator De León. “By promoting the development of clean energy resources, we are simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and creating jobs that can lift families out of poverty. With SB 350 now enacted into law, we’re on track to reach 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and we’re not looking back. If Congress won’t act, it’s incumbent on state and local leaders to do the job for them.”

Joining Senator De León to discuss successes made at the local and state level to reduce carbon emissions were Mayor Jeri Muoio of West Palm Beach, Florida and Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines, Iowa. “Our region used to be coal country, and now is powered by 40 percent wind. That's the future that cities and states are creating,” said Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie. “Cities and states and on the front lines of climate change. As sea levels rise, our city is in danger. To protect our future and lead by example, we have made a commitment to power all our city vehicles without fossil fuels,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio.

Senator De León is leading a delegation of California Senators in Paris for the United Nations climate summit where leaders from more than 150 countries have gathered in hopes of reaching an international agreement to slow global warming.

A new website launched for the Paris COP21 talks contains blog posts, photos and video news from the Senate delegation. Senators Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), and Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) are also in Paris. Follow their trip here:


Letter to Obama

The Next Phase in California Climate Leadership: Reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

December 9, 2015

Senator Ricardo Lara

California has been a proud and bold leader in pursuing environmental policies to reduce climate change and address the sources that cause it.  Those policies have mostly focused on reducing emissions of CO2, the most significant long-term driver of climate change.

However, more must be done to address Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) which disproportionately impact disadvantaged communities from the East Bay and Central Valley to the Inland Empire and Southeast Los Angeles County. My strategy to reduce SLCPs represents the next phase in California’s climate leadership: reducing black carbon emissions by 50%, methane by 40% and F-gases by 40% by the year 2030.

SLCPs are among the most harmful emissions to both public health and global climate change.  Although they remain in the atmosphere for a shorter duration than CO2, their impact can be hundreds of times greater, contributing about 40% to global radiative forcing – the effect that causes climate change. 

Legislation I authored in 2014, Senate Bill 605, directed California to produce a draft report on short lived climate pollutants, identifying major sources of emissions as well as policies and strategies to achieve significant, achievable reductions. 

I grew up in South East Los Angeles, in the shadow of the 710 freeway, playing with friends in the rail yards of Commerce.  It’s a region identified by US federal air quality standards as one of the worst in the nation. Like many other mothers in my community, my mom didn’t know much about the Kyoto Protocol or the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

But they know all about childhood asthma rates.

They understand the impacts on their children of chronic health problems caused by poor air quality – a result of the heavy industry and choking, congested transportation corridors in the region. Our communities feel the health impacts: 

  • One in 11 children in LA County suffer from asthma. 
  • Limited opportunities for physical activity, contributing to an epidemic of overweight and childhood diabetes that disproportionally impacts black and Latino communities.
  • Cancer clusters, asthma, low birth weight – these are not abstract issues, these are problems that Californians across the state face every day, and are consequences of poor air quality.

For example, if you live in the City of Commerce you are 140% more likely to contract cancer from diesel soot than people in the rest of LA.

The issue of clean air, clean fuels, and achieving the state’s ambitious carbon reduction goals is one of the greatest priorities facing the state legislature.  Families in the communities I represent – particularly in Southeast LA County - can’t wait any longer.

Reductions in short-lived climate pollutants will help us meet our climate change goals and at the same time dramatically reduce pollution and air contaminants that are poisoning our communities. My proposal will continue placing California at the vanguard of climate change policy and ensure that our most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities - which are disproportionately affected - benefit from a proactive, lasting reduction strategy in short lived climate pollutants. It’s the next logical step for California and it’s action that cannot wait any longer.