California's Environmental Leadership: Making Progress Amid Economic Recovery

Posted on 10 January 2013

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By Ann Notthoff

What California does makes a difference. When President Obama increased national mileage standards last year, he built on the pioneering work that Senator Fran Pavley started here in 2002. We dream big, we take big steps and when it comes to environmental and public health protection, nobody does it better. With his new budget proposal today, Governor Brown has a chance to build on our state's strong record of environmental and public health protection.

Thanks to the voters, our environmental management infrastructure is on safer ground now that Governor Brown's Prop 30 passed in November. Proposition 39 is also good news for clean energy and the good jobs it produces. Yet in 2013, significant challenges lay ahead for Governor Brown and those who share his vision of a clean energy and environmentally progressive future.

Governor Brown's continued bold leadership is essential to advance California's groundbreaking climate, land and water policies. We don't have time for hand wringing or delay. California is on the right path and we have internationally acclaimed environmental and public health policies on the books. What we need is a steady hand on the tiller, a clear vision to keep the progress we've made moving. A quick look at what California accomplished in 2012 is inspirational.

  • In April, Los Angeles, the land of sprawl, adopted the most transit friendly, visionary Sustainable Communities Strategy ever, signaling a new direction for urban growth in the southland.
  • In August, President Obama tightened carbon pollution standards for cars sold nationwide, based on California's 2002 clean cars law.
  • In October, the federal government launched a new approach to harness the power of the sun while protecting natural resources in the California desert, generating clean energy and local jobs.
  • In November, California put a price on carbon pollution through our landmark climate program and voters passed Propositions 30 and 39 which will fund state programs and clean energy retrofits for public buildings, saving tax dollars and cutting pollution.
  • Also in November, salmon swam in the San Joaquin River for the first time in 62 years, the result of an unprecedented restoration led by NRDC's advocacy during the past 20 years.
  • In December, California became the first state in the nation to set up a network of underwater parks along our coastline, creating safe havens for marine wildlife.
  • Also in December, the president of the state's Public Utilities Commission announced that California is on track to meet or surpass our state goal of getting 33% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

These environmental success stories happened while California added jobs at a faster rate than the rest of the nation. Californians know that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. And we expect our elected leaders to keep fighting for both.

Governor Brown and his environmental team have critical decisions in front of them in 2013. We call on them to defend our clean energy laws, craft innovative water solutions and champion ocean protection. But we will fight those who would turn back the clock, who would curb citizen rights to participate in their neighborhoods' future, who would silence communities from standing up for the right to breathe clean air and who would continue mistakes of the past, such as over-reliance on imported water without developing reliable local sources.

We will also fight to uphold the core protections of the California Environmental Quality Act. Science also tells us that Delta fish and farms need water to thrive and we will look with a critical eye as a proposal to build a new peripheral canal for water exports to southern California is introduced. Fracking has also come to California and we will be ready to discuss necessary, common-sense public health safeguards. The importance of making these programs work right is only multiplied by the constant imperative of fighting climate change.

To build on the great environmental progress California is making, we must all work together for a sustainable and profitable California. At the same time, we will be watching closely to guard against attempts to derail these current initiatives to improve the health and wallets of Californians. 2013 holds great promise. Let's get it right.

Ann Notthoff is the California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. She has worked on a wide range of issues including global warming, water policy and coast and ocean protection.

What California economic recovery?