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Froma Harrop: On climate threat, states refuse to surrender

Froma Harrop

As large parts of America burn or drown under weird weather conditions made more extreme by global warming, California and other states are doggedly pursuing solutions. What do you say to those who deny climate change is happening — or who dismiss the scientific consensus that humankind is making the problem worse? You say nothing and move forward.

It’s long past time to expect any guidance from the environmental saboteurs now running Washington. The Trump administration not only has refused to address the crisis but is reversing progress made by previous leaders.

The only remedy left — besides voting the wreckers out of office — is to help the states that are already doing the work. Much of the job now is preventing crazytown from vandalizing the states’ efforts to save themselves and the world from climatic calamity.

In the wake of catastrophic fires fueled by higher temperatures, California lawmakers just passed a bill mandating 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. But Hawaii was already there, having set a similar carbon-free commitment three years ago.

California already has a law requiring utilities to obtain 50 percent of their electricity from zero-carbon sources, such as wind, solar and nuclear, by the end of 2030. About 30 percent of its electricity currently comes from renewables.

The new legislation seems pretty radical. Gov. Jerry Brown seems likely to sign the bill into law once he’s convinced that it’s doable. The wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine, so success will rely on developing means to store wind and solar energy.

On the other side of the country, Maryland is suing a broken Environmental Protection Agency for proposing to undo Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The acting EPA administrator says the Trump administration’s plan to give states greater control over pollution from coal-powered utilities ends a “one-size-fits-all” federal mandate. That would sound less awful were mile-high walls erected along state lines to stop pollution from blowing in. As it happens, up to 70 percent of Maryland’s smog floats in from other states.

In California, most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and trucks. The obvious fix would be more electric cars, and if that is the case, then more cleanly obtained electricity is key.

Once again, the Trump administration does not want to help. Since 1967, California has held the right to set stricter fuel efficiency standards than the federal government’s. Because more than a dozen other states follow its lead, California has, in effect, been calling the shots for the nation.

Donald Trump doesn’t like that at all. His administration is working to strip California of the ability to tighten fuel economy standards. An epic legal battle has been joined.

Americans hungry for action on climate change can take comfort knowing that as an economic gorilla, California is uniquely positioned. California’s economy just passed Britain’s in size. The state is home to aggressive tech companies eager to make a buck off a carbon-free society (and good luck to them, too). It has an attention-focusing phenomenon of firenadoes, tornado-like twisters of fire.

And California has a deep environmental ethic that reaches into parts of its Republican Party. It was Gov. Ronald Reagan who pushed for the state’s right to set tough fuel standards. And as president, Californian Richard Nixon helped establish the EPA.

The bizarre climate-related events — from smoke-choked skies in Seattle to sunny-day floods in Florida — point to a very dark hour for the world’s environment. On the warming issue, enlightened state governments find themselves fighting alone and against a hostile administration in Washington. Concerned citizens must let their responsible leaders know that they have their backs.

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