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February 11, 2021

Public Energy Commission Takes Drastic Turn on California’s Pathway to Clean Energy

Picture of the California Public Utilities Commission Board members on their February 11th live stream meeting.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Contact: Rachel Boyer, rachel.boyer@sierraclub.org

San Francisco, Calif.– Today, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), under the leadership of Governor Gavin Newsom, voted on two major decisions that set the state back on its journey to 100% clean, renewable energy. First, in planning how the state will achieve its clean air and climate goals, the Commission approved a decision that maintains a greenhouse gas emissions target that a broad group of stakeholders agree is insufficient to meet our climate goals. Commissioners voiced interest in adopting a lower greenhouse gas target at a later date, but stopped short of committing to a lower target in this decision.

“Phasing out natural gas is essential for environmental justice and can’t keep getting punted. The CPUC missed an opportunity to get California back on track toward its clean energy future,” said Jose Torres, the energy equity program manager at California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA). “Instead of committing to an emissions target of 38MMT or lower that would direct the state to start phasing out harmful and polluting gas, the Commission passed a decision that relies on a plan likely to increase emissions in low-income communities of color. This step maintains the burden on our communities, which are already most impacted by environmental hazards and pollution. Retaining the higher target continues to keep emissions from many dangerous power plants in areas with the worst air quality in California.”

Second, the Commission decided to allow new contracts for undefined gas resources, in direct opposition to legal requirements and California’s commitment to addressing air and climate pollution. In August, blackouts plagued communities across the state in the midst of a climate-crisis induced heatwave. Due to an error in the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO)’s system, we sent thousands of megawatts of power outside the state when Californians needed it most. We also couldn’t rely on many of California’s gas-fired plants because they were either offline or unable to operate very well in high temperatures. Today, Governor Newsom and the CPUC had the opportunity to close the door to new gas investments but instead chose to give a blank check to California’s energy future over to the very industry that is causing the extreme weather we are experiencing. Despite recommendations by advocates and many public comments, the “extreme weather” decision sets no capacity or term length restrictions on any resulting gas contracts, resulting in “a blank check” for incremental new gas contracts.

“California is in danger of not meeting its clean air and climate goals. Today state leaders set us back at a moment when we can make a difference in fighting climate change. Last year California explicitly closed the door to new investments in gas. Today the CPUC contradicted its commitment to a clean energy future, further expanding the toxic reach of fossil fuels into our communities and setting California up to fail,”said Luis Amezcua, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club. “The August 2020 blackouts should have been the final straw to finally move beyond fossil fuels, not an excuse to prop up the aging gas fleet and increase our dependence on it. Governor Newsom said that ‘we have to step up our game.’ We assumed that meant he would direct state agencies to do everything in their power to set California up to succeed. Clearly, we were mistaken.”

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The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.

California Environmental Justice Alliance​ is a statewide, community-led alliance that works to achieve environmental justice by advancing policy solutions. We unite the powerful local organizing of our members in the communities most impacted by environmental hazards – low-income communities and communities of color – to create comprehensive opportunities for change at a statewide level. We build the power of communities across California to create policies that will alleviate poverty and pollution. Together, we are growing the statewide movement for environmental health and social justice. www.caleja.org

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