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UPDATE-- Pacific States and British Columbia Aren't Waiting for Others to Act: Groundbreaking Climate Change & Clean Energy Agreement Announced

Annie Notthoff

Posted October 28, 2013

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California Gov. Jerry Brown is known to talk about being from pioneering stock. Today, he and the governors of Oregon and Washington, along with the premier of British Columbia, are pioneering a Pacific Coast Climate Action Plan on Climate and Energy. These officials represent a region that would be the world’s fifth-largest economy if it were its own country. And working together proves that when we dream big, we can take big steps to combat climate change, protect our oceans from acidification and ensure a clean energy future.

It was exciting to be there with these government officials today, looking out on the sparkling San Francisco Bay when they made their formal announcement of their agreement, which is clearly ambitious in breadth and scope. It includes such critical tools for combatting climate change as putting a price on carbon, low carbon fuel standards, greenhouse gas reduction targets, energy efficiency, , integrating renewable energy into the regional power grid, electric vehicles, ocean acidification, and more.

This is just the kind of action that we need states to take on to meet national carbon pollution reduction goals and help make President Obama’s climate plan a success, as NRDC President Frances Beineke noted earlier today. The pact also calls for building a coalition of support to press for an international agreement on climate change in 2015.

“Model for innovation”

The Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy affirms a vision of the region as a “model for innovation that sustains our communities” that will save money for the 53 million consumers in the three West Coast states and British Columbia while creating jobs and new economic opportunities. In fact, the agreement notes, last year’s West Coast Clean Economy Report projected the addition of 1.03 million new jobs could be created in key sectors, such as energy efficiency and advanced transportation, “assuming the right policy environment.” 

Creating that “right policy environment” is critical.  It was so encouraging to see these leaders commit to tackling climate change here in San Francisco today but, of course, whether or not they meet their laudable goals depends on the day-to-day decisions they make when they are back home in Sacramento, Salem, Olympia and Victoria.  Decisions to expand dirty fossil fuel development must not erase the benefits of these climate-friendly policies. 

What we do here along the Pacific Coast in a region that already accounts for $2.8 trillion (U.S. dollars) of gross domestic product, making it the fifth-largest in the world, could have a major positive impact on the national – and global economy.  

And with harmonized 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, and midterm targets, it could have a major effect on the environment and public health while helping to lock in the cleaner investments necessary to combat the pollutants causing climate change as we power – and grow – our clean economy.

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A personal view

It’s particularly gratifying for me to see such close collaboration taking place here along the West Coast. I’ve lived in California all my life with the exception of four years at the University of Oregon where I met my husband. We’ve had family living in Oregon and Washington for decades and now with this agreement, our children and grandchildren will have a better chance of inheriting the clean air, clean water, and healthy environment that comes with a clean energy future that locks in system investments over the next decade.

Highlights of the pact

Here’s a quick snapshot of the major elements of today’s historic agreement:

  • Putting a price on carbon pollution to spur investment in clean energy across the region. This climate pact sends a clear market signal to businesses to accelerate their clean energy investments in the region. The pact is also a sign of the growing momentum around the country to limit carbon pollution, a major contributor to climate change, just like we limit other dangerous pollutants in our air. 
  • Expanding cleaner fuel competition to oil through low-carbon fuel standards. The West Coast will become among the largest clean fuels markets in the world. Businesses and consumers alike will benefit from increased competition in the fuels market, reduced vulnerability to oil price shocks, greater access to clean fuels and vehicles, and more of our dollars invested at home rather than spent overseas on oil.
  • Growing the clean energy industry by providing longer-term certainty. By setting harmonized 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets and setting mid-term targets, we’ll be accelerating down the clean investment path, rather than supporting projects – such as the Keystone XL pipeline or expanded fracking -- that threaten to lock us into dirty energy infrastructure for decades.
  • Accelerating energy efficiency to cut pollution and lower energy bills, and leading to buildings with “net zero” energy consumption and emissions. The pact highlights several important advances on top of the states’ and province’s strong foundations already helping families and businesses to cut energy waste and lower their electric utility bills by doing more with less energy through improved efficiency.  As the agreement notes, “energy efficiency is the lowest cost way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating good local jobs.”
  • Supporting clean electricity:  By calling for improved regional integration of wholesale electricity markets, the pact will further enable use of the region’s diverse and abundant renewable resources, helping lower costs and increasing reliability for consumers and businesses.  

Taking these big steps helps build momentum. This Pacific Coast agreement adds to a growing coalition of national and sub-national governments calling for climate action, including pressing for an international climate agreement and support for national U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards here at home to set pollution limits for power plants.  

The four generations of my family that live along the Pacific Coast are all applauding today’s big step here in San Francisco to move us toward a more sustainable and prosperous future that helps our region and builds momentum for other states and sub-national governments to take action. We all need to work together to combat climate change and change starts at home.

My colleagues here at NRDC will be blogging on this pact in more detail in the coming days.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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