.California’s Climate Countdown

Can the state power through it?

It’s climate crunch time in California. 

Starting today and lasting through Thursday, generators and transmission-line operators should delay any scheduled maintenance to avoid possible power outages as Californians crank up their air conditioners to deal with an expected onslaught of 100-plus degree heat, the state’s electric grid operator said Friday

The California Independent System Operator’s warning came on the heels of draft legislation Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office unveiled late Thursday to extend the life of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo, by as much as 10 years — and give its operator, PG&E, a forgivable loan of as much as $1.4 billion to do so

Taken together, the two actions underscore the extent to which California is at risk of repeating the events of 2020, when the state was unable to supply enough energy to meet demand, triggering the first rolling blackouts in nearly two decades

Newsom—no doubt eager to avoid power outages as he elevates his national profile in what some suspect is preparation for a future presidential run—has for months pushed the idea of temporarily extending Diablo Canyon’s lifespan past its planned 2025 closure to help shore up the state’s electricity supplies. 

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But the draft legislation makes explicit the urgency behind his proposal: It would exempt the Diablo Canyon extension from review under the California Environmental Quality Act and several other environmental laws, limiting the legal challenges that anti-nuclear advocates and other environmental justice groups could bring against it, according to the Los Angeles Times

And, unless Newsom calls for a special legislative session, lawmakers will have to approve his plan before the regular session ends on Aug. 31 — giving them less than three weeks to reach an agreement on the complex issue. (That isn’t the only contentious environmental legislation they’re grappling with: Newsom on Friday sent them a list of last-minute climate proposals he wants enacted, including accelerated greenhouse gas cuts, new interim targets for reaching 100% clean energy and safety zones around new oil and gas wells.)

Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham, a San Luis Obispo Republican, told the Sacramento Bee“I think (the Newsom administration is) pretty serious” about Diablo Canyon. “Serious enough to be briefing me about it, serious enough to be proposing some bill language in a trailer bill, serious enough to be expending some political capital to try to make the case and get the information to the voters and the public as to why we need it.” 

But the draft bill has angered some environmental advocates: “Legislators should reject it out of hand,” Environment California, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a joint statement. “With Governor Newsom and the legislature working to appropriate climate budget funds and advance ambitious climate legislation in the waning days of the legislative session, this proposal is a dangerous and costly distraction.”

The swirl of proposals comes as California prepares to lose its top climate regulator. Newsom announced Friday that Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency, will step down at the end of the month to lead the Waverley Street Foundation, a new $3.5 billion climate change nonprofit founded by Laurene Powell Jobs. Newsom appointed Amelia Yana Garcia Gonzalez, a California Department of Justice special assistant attorney general focused on environmental issues, to replace Blumenfeld, the latest high-ranking official to depart the governor’s administration.

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