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California expects to be unscathed as Trump targets Clean Power Plan

A solar farm in Kern County (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A solar farm in Kern County (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Although California’s leaders may protest President Trump's announcement Tuesday that he's scrapping the Clean Power Plan, his decision is expected to have little effect on a state already marching toward renewable energy.

In fact, greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation in the Golden State are already below what the federal government would have required by 2030, and they’re expected to drop even further.

“Rollback of the Clean Power Plan is pretty much irrelevant to California,” said Frank Wolak, a Stanford University economist who has advised state leaders on climate regulations.

The federal rules, enacted by former President Obama as part of his campaign against climate change, were intended to push states away from coal and toward cleaner energy sources. But that was already underway in California. Los Angeles, one of the last places in the state to rely on coal, was already planning to stop importing electricity from out-of-state coal plants by 2025. 

In addition, state law requires California to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030, and state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) has suggested pushing even further.

When it comes to fighting pollution and climate change, there are some areas where California relies on the federal government. For example, they share authority on regulating vehicle emissions, and Trump’s preparation to roll back federal rules has caused alarm here. However, there’s less of a concern when it comes to generating electricity.

Trump’s moves have caused some anxiety among California companies that are developing clean energy technologies and looking for new markets to sell them.

Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, said the Clean Power Plan would have been “a huge economic catalyst.”

“President Trump is basically telling California's more than 40,000 clean-energy businesses and the 500,000 workers they employ that they don't matter to him,” he said.

Rail cars filled with coal in Wyoming (Ryan Dorgan / Associated Press)
Rail cars filled with coal in Wyoming (Ryan Dorgan / Associated Press)

It’s an open question how Trump could affect various efforts for California to integrate its electricity grid with neighboring states, an idea that has failed to gain traction so far. Advocates of the concept say regional cooperation could expand the market for renewable energy, but the lack of federal pressure to cut emissions could dampen enthusiasm in places such as Utah and Wyoming, which rely on coal.

“They don’t have the Clean Power Plan bearing down on them,” said Don Furman, who directs the Fix the Grid campaign that’s seeking closer relationships among West Coast states.

Ralph Cavanagh, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he doesn’t expect changes to the Clean Power Plan to harm efforts to create a regional electricity grid, because of the falling cost of renewable energy.

“The rationale is stronger today than it was yesterday,” he said.

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