California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during a Vote No recall in San Francisco, California, United States on Tuesday, September 7, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
California voters will decide whether to remove Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom if he is removed from office on September 14th. While Newsom has taken moderate action to curb climate change, its replacement could lead to a rollback of green policies such as the elimination of fracking and gasoline-powered vehicles, and would have national implications for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
There are 46 challengers lining up to oust Newsom. Of the 24 Republican candidates on the ballot, many want to reverse the state’s ambitious plans to tackle climate change and transition to clean energy.
Newsom will be removed from office if more than 50% of voters remove him. The governor seems increasingly likely to keep his seat, with polls in recent weeks showing voters support him in office.
Conservative radio host Larry Elder, a supporter of former President Donald Trump who constantly spread misinformation about the climate, has proven to be the clear frontrunner when Newsom loses.
Elder said he was trying to “stop the war on oil and gas” and argued that “the global warming alarmism is a blast.” He has also repeatedly denied the role of climate change in the worsening forest fire season in California, and instead blamed poor forest management for the fires.
During an interview with ABC News in the Caldor Fire Zone in Northern California, Newsom pushed Elder’s comments on the climate back, arguing that his opponent “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about when it comes to climate and climate change. “
Another top candidate, GOP businessman John Cox, has argued that the state should produce more natural gas and become the “Saudi Arabia of the West,” claiming that climate regulations have increased costs in the state.
“Between forest fires, dirty air and drought, our state is in an almost constant state of emergency,” said Victoria Rome, California director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We have absolutely no time to waste on an anti-science governor.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder will stand up against current California governor Gavin Newsom during the recall election for California governor in Los Angeles, California on September 2, 2021.
Mike Blake | Reuters
What a new governor could do
A new governor is unlikely to abolish major climate legislation in California, especially given the Democratic state legislature and the re-election of the governor in 2022. Nonetheless, much of California’s climate policy is achieved through executive and administrative orders that change or change a new governor could reverse.
“A new governor would not be able to launch a legislative assault on California’s climate policy, but he would be able to slow down, redirect and even reverse the implementation of California’s climate policy,” said William Boyd, professor at UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
“At the very least, we would expect a year of potentially dramatic changes in the scope and pace of implementation, which would likely lead to litigation and deadlock until the next election,” said Boyd. “In view of the accelerating climate crisis, we cannot afford to lose a year or more.”
California, the fifth largest economy in the world, has implemented some of the most aggressive plans for the transition from fossil fuel production to clean energy. Many of the necessary laws have been in place for years.
The plans include an order for the state’s Air Resources Authority to cut emissions by 40% by the end of the decade, a requirement for utilities to get all their energy from clean sources by 2045, and a requirement that all trucks sold in the state emission-free until 2045.
As California grapples with increasing forest fires, water scarcity and an historic drought, Newsom is facing increasing pressure to act more aggressively on climate change.
The governor has signed orders requiring all new cars to be electric by 2035 and banning new fracking permits by 2024. The Newsom government also recently passed building codes to convert new buildings from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. In addition, last year California became the first state to commit to protecting 30% of its land and coastal waters by 2030.
Steve Weissman, director of the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at UC Berkeley, said that while Newsom was a “stay on track” governor on climate change, it was an “elder-style Republican” in office could lead to an increase in the number of conservative judges who may oppose key climate policies.
“If it led to a possible re-election, the impact on California’s climate and environmental policy would be devastating and potentially irreversible,” Weissman said.
“This could curb climate policy nationwide and worldwide,” he continued. “It’s hard to overestimate the damage this could do.”
A sign reading “No water equals lost jobs” on a farm during a drought in Firebaugh, Calif. On Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
In addition to undoing Newsom’s orders on issues such as clean vehicles, environmental protection, and oil and gas exploration, a new governor could step back from intergovernmental agreements, such as the letter of intent of the fifteen states pledging to achieve net zero emissions from Sales of new cars and buses by mid-century.
A new governor could also appoint new leaders to organizations that drive climate initiatives, and stop or cut funding for environmental or clean energy projects.
Richard Frank, professor of environmental law at UC Davis, said a new governor who is hostile to existing climate initiatives could “starve” some of the key enforcement agencies and appoint members who are not as committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“This could have a significant impact on the slowdown if it doesn’t reverse aggressive policies to curb climate change,” Frank said.