By Evan Halper
The incoming administration is embracing some of California’s most pioneering initiatives, such as programs for rapidly decarbonizing the electricity grid and tuition-free college, as well as more obscure, incremental policies. Also on the new White House agenda will be measures to ban mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts and a revival of a “Cash for Clunkers” program aimed at providing incentives to get polluting cars off the road — signature California policies.
California’s influence will be felt in how Americans power their homes and cars, and even in how they save for retirement.
California’s plan to remove carbon-emitting power sources from its electricity grid entirely by 2045 also inspired the incoming administration. Biden is proposing an even more aggressive timeline, looking to move the grid to zero emissions nationwide by 2035.
The state’s plan was the most ambitious of its kind when it was approved in 2018, a snub at Trump’s unrelenting push to revive demand for fossil fuels. It moved several other states to push up their decarbonization timelines. “My thinking was we had to be a beacon of hope and opportunity while Trump was trying to undo all of our policies at the national level,” De León said.
When Trump moved to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, California committed to meeting its objectives regardless, and launched a successful crusade to persuade 23 other states to do the same. Biden is now preparing to reenter the accord. California’s landmark tailpipe emissions standards that the Trump administration worked furiously to erode are again central to that effort, helping to push the nation’s vehicle fleet toward electrification.
An environmental task force set up last year with members across the Democratic Party’s spectrum — co-chaired by former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, since appointed to Biden’s Cabinet as climate envoy — urged the incoming administration to seek counsel from California. “Immediately convene California, due to its unique authority, and other states with labor, auto industry, and environmental leaders to inform ambitious actions,” the group’s report advised.
Biden’s agenda will also be informed by California’s setbacks.
The rolling blackouts the state recently endured pointed to the need for more innovation, public investment and oversight to keep pace with green-energy goals. The state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases fell short in curbing pollution in marginalized communities, triggering protests that may have cost California’s chief air regulator a post in Biden’s Cabinet as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.