As Democrats in Congress confront the specter of watching as the country’s climate policies are dismantled by President-elect Trump, key gains by the party in California could help Sacramento take over as the nation’s leader in the fight against global warming.
With a Democrat last week securing the final seat in the state senate, the party held onto its supermajority there. It also expanded its majority in the Assembly beyond the two-thirds supermajority threshold.
Those supermajorities may prove pivotal for climate policy in a high-profile state — one with the nation’s largest population, which releases more greenhouse gas pollution overall every year than any other. California is home to one of the world’s biggest economies, it’s an influential leader globally on climate policy, and it recently adopted some of the most ambitious goals for slowing warming.
Trump’s cabinet nominees, his anti-climate campaign rhetoric and Republican opposition to environmental rules suggest federal climate legislation and regulations could be eviscerated by the new White House and Congress. Meanwhile, Golden State Democrats will be trying to use their supermajorities to extend an imperilled landmark climate program — called cap-and-trade — beyond 2020.
Such an extension would almost certainly require two-thirds lawmaker approval in the state assembly and senate. That’s because lawmaking rules in California are different for taxes and fees than for other kinds of bills, which can be passed with simple majority votes.
“California is headed in a very different direction than the rest of the country,” said Gabriel Metcalf, president of San Francisco-based think tank SPUR. “The importance of California’s climate strategy is not just that it’s a big state with a big population. It’s also that it will be something that the rest of the country is paying attention to.”
Although it’s just a few years old, California operates the world’s second biggest cap-and-trade program (the European Union’s is bigger). Permits that are needed to pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases are called allowances. They’re purchased by Californian power plants, oil refineries and factories and traded by financial speculators, raising hundreds of millions of