California takes on climate change with ambitious set of bills

Legislators vote to keep state's only nuclear plant running for now

One of Pacific Gas and Electric's Diablo Canyon Power Plant's nuclear reactors in Avila Beach, California. AP
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Californian legislators on Thursday passed bills that present an ambitious push against global warming as the largest US state economy battles the effects of climate change.

The bills backed by Governor Gavin Newsom on greenhouse gas emissions, carbon removal and capture, oil well buffers and clean energy development will amount to $54 billion, The New York Times estimates.

“We’re taking all of these major actions now in the most aggressive push on climate this state has ever seen because later is too late," Mr Newsom said earlier in August.

"California will continue blazing a trail for America and the rest of the world on the swift and meaningful actions necessary for cutting carbon pollution, protecting communities and leading the clean-energy future.”

The state has wrestled with the effects of climate change for decades, from fierce wildfire seasons, water restrictions from persistent droughts and energy shortages from extreme heat.

Mr Newsom declared a state of emergency on Wednesday before a Labour Day holiday weekend heatwave across the state, to increase energy supply and encourage citizens to use less electricity.

California is not shy about its fight against climate change. It recently passed legislation to ban the sale of new petrol-powered cars by 2035.

One of the bills passed on Thursday includes a $1.4bn government loan to extend the life of the state's only nuclear power plant, to shore up reliable electricity supply.

It marks a reversal of the state's 2016 decision to retire Pacific Gas and Electric's Diablo Canyon power plant by 2025.

After it is signed by Mr Newsom, the legislation will delay Diablo Canyon's retirement by five years to 2030 and exempt some state agencies from complying with certain environmental laws to enable the extension.

The bill easily won the support of the two thirds of legislators it needed to pass.

California wants to produce all of its electricity from clean sources by 2045, but faced challenges such as rolling power cuts during a heatwave in 2020.

Nuclear energy, which does not emit climate-warming emissions, accounts for about 9 per cent of the state's electricity and nearly a fifth of its carbon-free power.

Reuters contributed reporting

Updated: September 01, 2022, 7:48 PM