California Democrats end legislative year with climate victories

By Kathleen Ronayne
Associated press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Tougher clean energy targets, banning new oil and gas wells near homes and schools, and setting guidelines for capturing carbon and storing it underground are among the climate proposals put forward by California Democrats in the final days of the legislative session.

Taken together, with tens of billions of dollars budgeted for climate proposals, the policies marked one of the state’s most groundbreaking years for climate action, some supporters said.

“It’s been a pivotal year for climate action,” said Mary Creasman, executive director of California Environmental Voters.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in August presented lawmakers with a list of climate proposals, some of which had been pushing unsuccessfully for years. All but one, a proposal that would have required deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, will now head to his desk.

Broadly, Legislative Republicans have argued that the bills would destroy jobs in the state and force the state to look to foreign countries to import oil in order to maintain an economy that still relies heavily on fossil fuels. . Democrats, meanwhile, have said the urgency of climate change demands faster and more aggressive action.

Here is an overview and some of the key measures:


Oil and gas companies would no longer be able to drill wells within 3,200 feet (975 meters) of homes, schools and other community sites.

About 2.7 million Californians already live that far from a well, according to State Senator Lena Gonzalez, one of the authors of the bill. Studies show that living near a drilling site can increase the risk of birth defects, respiratory problems and health problems. Neighborhood oil wells are common in parts of Los Angeles County and Kern County.

The legislation would not close the more than 28,000 existing wells in this area, but would require them to adhere to strict pollution controls. These wells would also be excluded from most permits to deepen or rework wells.

State oil regulators announced a similar policy in 2021, although it has yet to be finalized. Proponents of the policy believed that passing the law was the quickest route.

“This is a victory for every frontline family and community in California who have been fighting Big Oil drilling in our backyards for decades and pushing for setbacks for years,” Coalition Coordinator Kobi Naseck , for Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods said in a statement.

California is the seventh-largest oil-producing state and the fourteenth-largest in natural gas production. Republican Senator Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, one of the state’s oil hubs, said the proposal would affect thousands of wells in her district and do nothing to reduce oil needs.

“It doesn’t change the fact that Californians still use oil every day to make their lives more convenient and better,” she said.


California has already mandated that 100% of retail electricity sales will come from non-carbon energy sources like solar and wind by 2045. The current law sets an interim goal of 60% by 2030.

Lawmakers have now increased that figure to 90% by 2035 and 95% by 2040.

The action comes as California struggles to maintain the stability of its power grid as the state moves away from fossil fuels and record temperatures blanket the state.

The more aggressive goals will put even more pressure on the state to build more solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries capable of storing that energy for nighttime use. At the same time, demand for electricity is expected to rise as California tries to get more people to trade in gas-powered cars and appliances for electric ones.

Lawmakers also agreed to a policy to extend the life of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear plant, to help stabilize the energy grid. Proponents of nuclear energy say it is an environmentally friendly carbon-free source of energy, but critics worry about its safety. The bill states that any power from the plant generated after August 2025 could not count toward California’s 2045 clean energy goals.

Newsom, speaking on Wednesday, acknowledged the challenges of having enough power to meet demand during heat waves made worse by climate change. But he said that would only accelerate California’s efforts to build a cleaner energy grid.

“Don’t think for a second…that we’re going to de-escalate our commitment to this transition,” he said.


Former California Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order in 2018 calling for the state to be carbon neutral by 2045, meaning any carbon it emits is offset by removing a similar amount from the atmosphere.

On Wednesday, lawmakers voted to turn that goal into law and demand an 85% cut in greenhouse gas emissions. The second part is designed to ensure that carbon neutrality is achieved primarily by reducing emissions, not by removing carbon from the air.

Some environmental groups doubt that carbon capture is a reliable and safe technology and fear that it will be used to allow oil companies to continue emitting fossil fuels.

Another bill passed by the Legislature requires the state air board to create a permitting process for such projects. It prohibits the technology from being used to extract more oil.


Low-income Californians who don’t own a car would get a $1,000 tax credit under another proposal directed at Newsom’s office. It would only be eligible for singles earning less than $40,000 or couples earning less than $60,000. Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, and the state is largely trying to get people out of gas-powered cars over the next twelve years.

Meanwhile, a proposal that would have required companies with revenues over $1 billion to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions failed to pass the Assembly.

Another bill that would have set the state’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions goals 55% below 1990 levels also failed. The current requirement is a 40% reduction, which some observers say the state is not on track to achieve.


This story has been corrected to say that new clean energy legislation would require the state to get 90% of its electricity from renewable or non-carbon sources by 2035 and 95% by 2040, not from ‘by 2030 and 2035. The story also clarifies that any power produced at Diablo Canyon after 2025 would not count toward California’s clean energy goals.