University of San Diego

San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law


Alice Kaswan

Library of Congress Authority File


Given the multiplicity of California’s numerous policies, this Article provides an overview—not a full exploration of all the twists and turns that have marked each legislative debate and administrative policy. Moreover, it is too soon to assess implementation of many recent programs, with expectations varying widely. Nonetheless, this Article provides a relatively comprehensive picture of the most significant policies and highlights the opportunities and issues they raise. Part I introduces California’s initial climate policies and the important role that environmental justice concerns played in garnering a legislative majority for the state’s early efforts. Part I then provides an overview of the role of environmental justice in the implementation of a wide range of climate change mitigation programs and the ways in which the state has sought to broadly distribute the benefits of a clean energy transition. Because the state’s cap-and-trade program has been a flash point for environmental justice concerns, Part I ends by providing further details on the program’s operation and reviewing recent studies assessing emissions distributions before and after the program was adopted. Part II highlights major recent legislative developments: in 2016, setting an emissions target of 40 percent below 1990 emissions by 2030, and, in 2017, extending the state’s cap-and-trade program. These legislative accomplishments featured significant debates about environmental justice and its role in California’s future climate policy. Part III crystallizes critical issues and insights that have emerged from California’s odyssey, insights relevant not only to understanding the California experience, but to considering the development of climate policy in other states. Part III first highlights the value of California’s multipollutant approach, its efforts to distribute the benefits of a clean energy transition broadly, its attention to economic justice, and mechanisms to enhance participatory opportunities for historically marginalized communities. However, the commitment to environmental justice concerns has not been unqualified. Part III analyzes a second issue: how economic and political concerns have resulted in a relatively “light touch” for industry – a result that, while understandable, could dampen emission reductions (and associated co-pollutant reductions) near industrial sources, and ultimately slow the industrial sector’s necessary decarbonization. The third issue highlighted by Part III is emerging tension over California’s multipollutant focus, which appeared somewhat threatened during administrative and legislative deliberations in 2017, but, overall, appears likely to proceed. Fourth, the 2017 legislation featured a politically charged anti-regulatory trend seen in many states: preemption. The state’s legislation preempted local controls on stationary sources and, in the oil and gas sector, preempted both state and local controls. The preemption could complicate integrated controls for GHG and co-pollutant emissions and reflects the sophisticated way in which regulated entities, particularly in the oil and gas sector, have leveraged their political power. This Article concludes by illuminating the value of linking climate policy to a broader vision that addresses day-to-day environmental, social, and economic vulnerabilities. Even if the environmental justice frame itself lacks traction in other states, a comprehensive vision, however framed, could help garner the political support necessary to counter the strong vested interests arrayed against a change in the status quo.