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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Froma Harrop: California keeps the faith on climate, replacing Washington

Many on the right insist that California’s tough environmental rules are strangling its businesses. Evidence to the contrary emerged last week in news that California has just zoomed past Britain to become the world’s fifth-biggest economy. California must be doing something right.

One of the things is vigorously confronting the perils of global warming. The Trump administration, married to fossil fuel interests, has gone AWOL in dealing with this threat to both the environment and global stability. Under Gov. Jerry Brown, California has assumed the leadership role, helping other states and other countries bypass Washington.

Before going on, let us note that many conservatives were outspoken environmentalists decades ago. President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Check out a compelling recent essay in The American Conservative: “Time for Conservatives to Break the Anti-Environmentalist Mold.”

California’s “decarbonization” program has created a booming green energy economy. The solar industry alone supports 250,000 jobs in the state. The push away from fossil fuels is also putting more money in people’s pockets.

For example, California just approved a requirement that nearly all new homes come equipped with solar panels in 2020. The rule will add about $9,500 to the cost of construction, but the state’s homebuilders are for it.

Why would they back a regulation that makes their product more expensive? Because though the panels will add an average of $40 a month to a mortgage, consumers will save an average of $80 a month on their electric bills, according to California Energy Commission estimates. That’s a $480-a-year bonus to save the planet. Where do we sign?

The Trump administration wants to scuttle the Obama-era mandate requiring automakers to boost the average fuel economy of cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. California says it’s going to stick with that requirement whatever Washington does. California and more than a dozen other states following its lead in setting standards represent 43 percent of the U.S. car market. So what California says goes.

Well, isn’t that going to make cars and light trucks more expensive? Sure. But as with solar panels, the savings in fuel efficiency could more than offset any rise in vehicle prices. The higher 2025 mileage standard would save car buyers $1,650, almost all from lower fuel costs, according to the EPA. And that’s after factoring in the higher cost of more efficient vehicles.

The 54.5 mpg standard is not an unreasonable goal. Many electric cars already get the equivalent of more than 100 mpg. Norway, Germany and the Netherlands expect to phase out internal-combustion engines in new cars altogether by 2030.

The only thing the Trump administration can do about California’s plan is to take away its right to set its own rules (under the Clean Air Act of 1970). And it’s trying.

As Brown thumbs his nose at Washington, other countries still in the Paris agreement on climate change are now treating him as a national leader. In December, Brown represented the United States at the One Planet Summit, held on the second anniversary of the climate accord. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a Republican, also attended.

“We have Gov. Brown of California. We have Mike Bloomberg,” French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed. “They’ve said they’re going to stand in place of the American federal government: ‘States, cities, private-sector players – we’re going to play a role ourselves.’ ” And so they are.

Brown, meanwhile, plans to host the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September. One can just imagine the hostile tweets that will emerge. But you can rest assured, it will be a two-way tweetstorm.

Froma Harrop is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.