136: Senator Ben Allen Advocates SB54 for Recycling, Carbon Tax, Solar
Guest Name(s): Ben Allen
Senator Ben Allen discusses SB54, a key California bill targeting plastic pollution through recycling mandates. He emphasizes collaboration among environmental groups, local governments, and industry for extended plastic producer responsibility. Senator Allen express support for a carbon tax in California! The interview also covers the COP conference and his skepticism because of the influence of fossil fuel producers. Allen warns the roll out of rooftop solar is being threatened by the PUC in California and urges everyone to raise their voices to prevent the utilities from hurting the rooftop solar roll out.
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You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I have got Senator Ben Allen on the program. Senator, great to have you on the show. It’s a third time we’ve had you. And it’s always been a pleasure. So thank you for being here.
Appreciate you so much, Matt. Happy to be here. And happy to be on again.
Well, tell us a little bit about what’s been happening in your world. Since we last talked, the last time we talked, you just had a big win, kind of earth shattering win on the plastics front. And maybe you can get everybody up to speed as to what that win was for those of us who may not have heard it, and then to like, where’s it at in terms of implementing that? That when on the ground?
Yeah, so we were able to get SB54. across the finish line. This is a bill that really has global implications in terms of forcing the producers of plastics and all sorts of other types of food service where and packaging to meet, aggressive recycling, and our composting requirements, source reduction requirements for waste reduction requirements, if they’re not able to, they’ve got to transition to better, more sustainable alternatives.
And it was something that we did, it’s part of a grand negotiation between the environmental community environmental justice, local governments, who are ultimately paying the big price of all of the dysfunction of our waste management system, and industry, retailers, distributors, producers, etc. And it basically creates this extended producer responsibility system, whereby the producers of the plastics take responsibility, finally, for the end use of their products.
And so it was a big bill, we got it across the finish line, it literally got international news, it’s starting to impact global investments, as new innovative companies that are coming up with new, more innovative solutions to packaging and plastics, alternatives, plastic recycling, are emerging and getting investment and scaling opportunities for their products. So it’s really exciting.
And the implementation is starting the power cycle, which is the department that oversees this, this area of work is coming out with regulations very, very soon, actually, in January, February, there’s the big industry groups are getting together to form up what’s called a producer responsibility organization that’s going to help with the implementation of this effort. And, you know, we’re really, really very pleased. And we’ve been hearing a lot of interest about our bill and all that it’s going to help to spur from from all over the world.
That’s, that’s really fantastic. And I guess it goes to show that yet again, California is in the vanguard, and when we lead others follow, and it’s it’s certainly having it’s tough to take on industry the way that you did and, and you you had to compromise a bit with them in order to find something that was workable, but yet, move the ball. And so I guess, what’s the next move? We got that done? We’re always asking more and more and more, Senator, what’s next?
Yeah, well, certainly, we’re gonna continue well, first of all, the implementation and successful rollout of the program is a high priority for me and overseeing that process, I chaired the committee that oversees this area of policymaking. So that’s certainly going to be an area of continued engagement. And I’m always I mean, literally today, you know, having meetings about implementation, and whether it be with industry groups, you know, CalRecycle, environmental groups, local government, et cetera, et cetera.
So that continues to be a priority. We’re also looking at household hazardous waste as another potential candidate for an extended producer responsibility system. And then we’re looking at several other areas as well. I mean, one of my colleagues is working on an Eevee gig sorry, solar panel, extended producer responsibility system, Chris Ward’s got to build on that space.
There’s others looking at batteries, others looking at other other parts of the consumer economy, the idea being, you’re trying to get credit, create more skin in the game for producers, so that when they’re producing their products, they’re not just thinking about the cheapest, easiest way to get the product out to market, but then they actually have some level of responsibility or accountability with the end user of the product as well. And ultimately, they’re the folks who got the most knowledge about their product, their product design.
They got the most tools at their disposal with regards to design and product but they also Know their markets better, they know their consumers better. And they can take some responsibility for producing products that are gonna both serve their market serve their consumers, but also be much less likely to end up as a cost burden as an environmental burden to the rest of us. So we’re doing a lot of work in that space, no questions, lots of work going on with climate, in general climate disclosure, both in terms of climate risk and emissions, trying to effectuate a faster, more rapid transition to, to clean energy.
So happy to talk about all that. But there’s tons of work happening in environmental space. Obviously, there’s a big pop conference happening right now, I went to climate week, back in September in New York. So we can we can talk more broadly about all those efforts, if you like.
Well, I’m going to COP on Saturday. So you know, what, what should I be looking for? And what should I be trying to look, you know, bring back to listeners?
Well, I’m excited you’re going, you know, it’s funny, I, I’m not going, you know, and I am glad you’re going and there are some legislators are gonna go and I’m happy to connect you with them be great for you to do some interviews. I think everyone’s obviously there’s a lot of nervousness and skepticism about this particular car. Right. I think a lot of people are seeing that.
You know, first of all, there was the there was the distressing reports of how, you know, some of the organizers are actually setting up side meetings with oil industry folks to talk about oil deals and other major fossil fuel deals, which seems to really defeat the purpose of some of the broad goals that are happening with with with all the fossil fuel reduction that we knew we need to we need to do to meet the climate goals that we have as a planet.
So I think there’s a lot of there’s a certain degree of skepticism, I went to climate week, which I actually thought was a really great experience, you have people coming from all over the world to New York to talk about the need for action on climate.
I’m just I’m obviously I’m really I don’t want to talk down the conference, because I’m immensely hopeful that some progress will be made. But it’s hard to feel, at least from all the initial reports, very confident and optimistic about how the conference is gonna go, what made you decide to go and how are you grappling with, with all of the all of the the skepticism that’s out there about the chances of this conference being successful, given where it is, and who’s running it and all the other meetings that already been set up?
I guess I also have a degree of skepticism. I also think, though, sometimes an opportunity like this could you know, when you have the the quote, bad guys in the room, this is where you can get the deal done. And, of course we are I’m a litigator by trade. And so I know at mediations, we’ve got to have the person who harmed my client in the room in order to get the deal done. So I think there’s a possibility of, because we’ll have the oil companies in the room essentially, in a big way and the Middle Eastern OPEC nations there.
And we, you know, and there’s also a sense of hospitality, when you invite somebody into your domain, you better offer them something or you kind of look like a bad host. So I heard I didn’t hear this firsthand, because I didn’t listen to the Salton Sea, opening speech. But somebody told me that they, they thought it was very good, and that he seemed to be saying the right things. Now, of course, just saying the right things is not enough. But it is certainly a step in the right direction, because certainly oil producing companies and countries were not saying the right thing, you know, years ago.
Yeah. And I will say I’ve spent some time in the Gulf region. And I know, hospitality is a very important part of the culture, there was certainly something that was very meaningful to the Qataris as they were hosting the World Cup. And, you know, so I, listen, I’m, I think we all have a vested interest. All of us as human beings, as inhabitants of this planet. We all have a vested interest in the success of this conference.
And I think you’re right. I mean, listen, one lesson, I’m certainly, you know, on the plastics deal, I sat down with industry a lot. I worked with industry a lot. And I recognized that the only solution to this problem would have to involve real conversation, meaningful conversation and engaging with industry.
I think there’s no question that we can we simply can’t meet our climate goals without bringing the energy companies and indeed the oil companies into the conversation, but I will say we also have to be tough and and hold them accountable, and really put their feet to the fire.
And so I’m just really hopeful that that, that that process will happen and I don’t know. We’ll see. I mean, I think we’re really counting on it.
Yeah, I think that maybe it’s hitting home in a very real way, particularly in the Gulf where it is literally uninhabitable for humans at certain temperature levels. And they are, they’re at the higher end of that spectrum. They make Phoenix look like, you know, the North Pole. So that it’s got to be excruciatingly hot there. And at some point in time, it is literally unlivable if it keeps going in that direction. So they they’ve got to be concerned about their own well being at some point in time.
Yep. I think I yeah, I that’s certainly, that’s certainly the hope. And you can’t air condition your way out of this problem. So anyway, I wish you Godspeed. I wish all the delegates in the conference, Godspeed. I will I do. I will say I hope that some of the work that California has been doing will also help to inspire the work there.
I mean, everything from our, you know, having passed legislation last year to dramatically, you know, continue this this trajectory of greenhouse gas emission reductions, and also the climate disclosure bills, both in terms of climate risk and emissions through supply chain, that all that stuff matters. And all that stuff is getting buzz, it’s certainly got a lot of buzz in New York, we went to, to climate week.
You know, one of the things about that experience, when I went out there being a Sacramento is it feels very provincial place being in LA, nobody ever seems to care much for Sacramento. There I was in New York around the table with a lot of top flight folks at Latham and Watkins, people have flown in from all over the world who were experts in cap and trade finance.
And they were listening very intently to a panel of state senators talking about the work we were doing, because there really is global impact to our work in Sacramento in the area of climate. And it’s something we got to be proud of, but we kind of we got to keep, keep pushing on. It’ll make a difference in international conferences like COP.
Well, somebody’s got to do it first. And I think that California has taken a lot of those first steps. And we should be proud of what we’ve done, but not sit on our lawyer laurels. Because there’s yet more to be done. So stay tuned, everybody. We’ll be back in just one minute with Senator Ben Allen, a mover and shaker on the plastics front and many other environmental issues.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Senator Ben Allen on the show. Senator, I just wanted to talk to you about one idea that has been battered around for decades really is a tax a carbon tax, and that that would lie elegantly kind of address the elephant in the room, which is, hey, if we put a tax on something everybody will have to pay are certainly some people may be richer people pay and poor people get subsidized a bit, because it would be unfair to kind of hammer people who are lower income. So is that something that we could do in California and do effectively or is that something that really needs to be done at a national level?
I think we can do it in California. I mean, it’s something I’ve actually been really interested in for a while. I ran a bill a few years ago to To create a feasibility study for just this question, Should we try to figure out some way to equitably implement some, some form of of carbon tax. There’s other ideas out there fee and dividend, all those kinds of things where people will get money back. You know, I will say cap and trade is a carbon tax of sorts, right?
It’s a, it’s a, the idea is that you make it more expensive for companies to pollute, and to contribute to greenhouse gas, the greenhouse gas effect, and over time, you restrict their their rights or permits to do so. And that ends up, you know, increasing the cost of polluting activity. You know, the sad thing is, my bill got out of the Senate in May, and ended up stalling in the assembly, taxation, revenue, revenue and taxation committee. A number of Democrats just didn’t want to support it.
And, you know, I will say it was a few years ago, things have changed a bit. So now that we’re having this conversation, I’m thinking maybe I should try to revive the bill. It was it was a disappointing experience, quite frankly, because I think there are people out there who are deeply skeptical. My idea was we could i What I’d love to have happen is maybe replace the sales tax with a carbon tax. So um, so that, you know, people would, I don’t think it would be, I don’t think it would be politically feasible for us to impose a carbon tax on top of all the taxation that currently exists.
But if there’s a way for us to get rid of an existing tax, or dramatically reduce the existing tax, and a regressive tax, such as the sales tax, for example, that might be a way for people to feel more comfortable accepting something like this, that I hope would help them better steer behavior. I mean, one of the problems with the sales tax is that it it actually disincentivizes something that we want to incentivize, which is economic activity, we want people going out to the stores and buying things in brick and mortar places and, and gin, creating jobs and generating life, in our on our streets in retail, and all that kind of thing.
That’s all good stuff. And we should it’s one of my problems with the sales tax is that it? It? It sort of penalizes, you know, to a small extent, but it penalizes that sort of economic activity that we want to incentivize. Whereas the beauty of a carbon tax is that it would be really focused on charging people more for your activity for business activity, economic industrial activity that is more harmful to our environment, and hopefully in so doing, would incentivize or disincentivize bad behavior incentivize good behavior.
So it’s something that’s always been a real interest to me. It’s been a struggle to get other elected officials, or at least enough elected officials, including on the Democratic side to get on board the idea I think people are scared to change. I think there’s a lot of industry pushback, there’s also a major questions about how it would be determined, it’s so easy to apply a sales taxes, it’s a straight percentage on all transactions.
And yet, I think from a conceptual perspective, would be much better to do away with the sales tax and replace it with with it with the similar with a carbon tax that would create a similar amount of revenue, but do a much better job of incentivizing or disincentivizing good and bad behavior that’s pro social, or pro planet or anti planet.
I think it’s a brilliant idea to link the two because you can get the carbon tax initiated and take away the sales tax, which as you said, is Brexit regressive, and then people who are doing who are wanting to engage in more polluting behavior pay for it and people who are not engaging in that don’t have to pay for it. So there’s not a free rider problem, which is that people who are not polluting end up paying, you know, we all pay the cost of a polluted environment.
You know, somebody was saying to me that the lancet said that the cause the 9 million deaths are caused each year via pollution that’s 90 million people dying over the course of 10 years because of pollutions and saying, we we wouldn’t stand for that if that was like a war or something like that. We were up in arms but you know, silently 9 million people are gonna die this year because of pollution. It’s it’s crazy. So absolutely. Go back to that. That idea you had for the feasibility study and get that going because I think you might win the Nobel Prize for that one.
Yeah, you know, I’m like I looked like maybe Nicole maybe you can maybe you can put the the bill information in the chat so everyone can see it. Yeah, I really think I now that we’re having this conversation, I’d like to revive. Let’s see if we can revive it. Yeah,
I think it’s a great idea. And, you know, it’s it’s one that really will shift, you know, the fulcrum of The whole the whole of economic activity and you kind of go back, a friend of mine was talking to me about John Locke recently, and, and the idea of stewardship and the idea of stewardship that Locke had talked about, really fell by the wayside. And he was, he was one of the great thinkers that the founders of the country really put a whole lot of stock into.
And that’s the basis of a lot of our democracy. But unfortunately, at the time, stewardship looked a lot different 300 years ago than it did today. And in part, we dropped the ball in our pricing pollution. So we let people engage in activities without pricing this cost to all of us. And so, if we price the cost, maybe we’ll change the activity.
I think that, you know, you bring it up, John Locke is actually really apropos because there has been a line of thinking in American economic and political philosophical thought that’s that, that says, Oh, the John Locke, Rousseau in ethos, that we that we that plays such an important role as you correctly state in the in the foundation foundational principles of our of our country, I think has been misread in many respects, or at least selectively read that a lot of people see that that philosophical trajectory is supporting a laissez faire economic system that, you know, and yet people like John Locke select correctly recognized that in areas such as the environment, and this was a guy riding in the 1700s, I mean, the preciousness of this man is extraordinary.
But I think he thought coming right that the Industrial Revolution was taking off, he saw it happening in Britain, he saw the benefits of it, but he also thought the enormous negatives with with increased pollution and people getting black clung, I mean, all these other environmental problems, and recognize that in the end of the day, an unfettered market is not going to look out for the environment, it’s not gonna look for out for precious resources that we need to take a proactive step in, in, in putting stewardship as a as a high core principle, putting environmental stewardship, as a, as a as a, as a core fundamental principle for, for, for our society, for our government, for our country.
And, unfortunately, we’ve done it to some extent, but you know, it’s, it’s always, it’s always so hard to get to get those people who benefit the most, from a lack of regulation in this area, to do the right thing and accept some responsibility and, and ultimately accept rules that are going to help to make sure our Earth has a fighting chance to, to keep going off into the future.
And, you know, gosh, I was I was talking with someone yesterday, you know, really nice person does a lot of work overseas. And I was asking him, you know, what, he does a lot of work in Southeast Asia.
And I said, Well, why do you do all this extra work in Southeast Asia and manufacturing side? He said, Well, quite frankly, some of its just the fact that they just don’t have a lot of environmental regulations. And so it’s easier to do the work we do. And I, you know, I first of all, I was happy that you didn’t feel that way about about the United States.
But it’s a it’s a sad truth that we’ve now have this race to the bottom, where, where a lot of countries feel as though they have to be, you know, they basically have to accept whatever status quo whatever terms, big industrial players want to impose upon them, so as to get the factories and get the job creation and get the economic growth.
And yet what ends up happening is their rivers get polluted and destroyed. Many more people, especially poor people who live, you know, in those areas end up getting impacted, early death, cancers, all sorts of other impacts.
So it’s a sad kind of aspect of our capitalist system. And I think people like John Locke, who was a proto capitalist of many ways, also recognize the limits of capitalism and the importance of imposing and incorporating stewardship values into the regulation and oversight of a capitalist system.
Yeah, obviously, we have to have it. I mean, I point out to other people that you certainly wouldn’t let the capital markets of the stock market be completely unregulated people steal left and right. I mean, they’re already doing it, even with lots of regulation.
So you could you imagine the amount of, you know, impropriety that would occur if if, you know, nefarious actors were allowed to just run riot. I mean, it would be crazy to think that, you know, like, industry players get the need for that kind of regulation because it’s so directly impacts them. When it comes to environmental stewardship.
There’s a broad base impact on everybody else for all of the the externalities, all the negative impacts of pollution. And I think some of the industry players see it as it is them bearing a disproportion It costs for broad based benefit. And it’s one of the reasons why it’s so much harder to sometimes get industry to agree to this kind of stewardship principle. That being said, you know, there’s their cultural shifts and people are steam is starting to see the need for this kind of work
And we need to keep the pressure up. I think it’s in places like California, where they recognize that our polity is just not going to put up with with with this rapid environmental degradation. And they know they have to work with elected officials and advocates and others who are demanding more accountability out of out of our out of our businesses. So that’s a better environment for conversation negotiation,
I think there’s a direct parallel to that. And when you’re talking about the stock market versus just our clean air, and that they’re clearly a capitalist can see that their portfolio is protected by these regulations and adds value. And there are billions and trillions of dollars of value is protected by these regulations.
And if you could only get the Enlightened capitalists to see we’re protecting, you know, more than trillions of dollars, we’re protecting our life, our life, by environmental regulations. I mean, it’s obviously valuable, we just need to price in the value of what that right. And the truth is, none of these regulations put anybody out of business, it just tells them to do their business in a better way.
I’ll give you one example, when there was, you know, all those when when basically kids were growing up with half of the lung capacity in LA back in the 70s, because there was such such bad pollution in the air, we couldn’t even see the Hollywood sign most days because of the smog. California regulators said to the industry, look, guys, you got to do better. We know you can do better. We know you have the technology, they weren’t implementing the technology just because it was a little bit more expensive.
We put the rules in place, they all implemented the technology now we have far more cars on the road, but people are breathing, the air is significantly cleaner. It’s not didn’t put the gar automobile industry out of business over time.
You know, they were able to scale the technology and it all just priced out in a decent way. And yet a lot a lot fewer lives are being lost right now to to, to lung respiratory diseases in LA as a result of our cleaner air.
Okay, well, you’re listening to A Climate Change. We’ve got Senator Ben Allen on the program, and we’ll be right back after these messages. Stay tuned.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Senator Ben Allen on the program. I wanted to pivot to energy transition and how we’re doing in California.
What’s the next big step? I know, we’ve got, you know, we’ve made a lot of progress. But are we on track to meet our goals? And are we going to get even more aggressive in the coming years to make that transition to clean energy vehicles more quickly?
Yeah. Well, so yes, we’re making a lot of progress. No, we have not met our more ambitious goals. You know, I will say a few things. I mean, first of all, there was this big report that just came out, that certainly shows that we’ve got a real real crisis on our hands globally with regards to greenhouse gas emissions and reaching a point of, of no return, which is very scary. One little shining light in the report was that the US has basically leveled off on its emissions.
We know we need to dramatically reduce our emissions, but there’s been a leveling off that we don’t we’re not continuing to, to our emissions are not increasing in the way that they were before. And partly that’s the transition from coal. But partly, it’s the leadership of places like California that have just been relentlessly pushing to transition our energy sources away from from climate impacting fossil fuels. So what is this transition look like?
Right? I mean, it’s everything from, you know, trying to make sure that, that we that we do a much better job in, in, in this in this transition to electric vehicles, electricity in general, of course, that’s going to involve a lot of infrastructure, it’s going to involve a lot of energy generation, one of the major challenges with battery storage, we know we have all this excess solar power, we have a lot of sun in California, of course, during certain times of the day, certain times of the year lots and lots of production at certain times.
And then of course, the sun goes down, and there’s no more solar production. And can you how long can you keep that solar energy that has just been generated that day, in a way that’s going to be meaningful to charge people’s homes and cars and AC units and all that around the state. So there’s a battery storage challenge, there’s an infrastructure build out challenge. And yet, there’s a lot of really good people working on this stuff.
You know, so much so that even some of the most vexing climate problems with regards to energy, you know, things like airplanes, for example, and we all know that every time we get on an airplane, typically, you are just upping your carbon footprint through the roof, I feel really bad about because I gotta go. Personally, I fly a lot to Sacramento and elsewhere.
And you know, and so and yet, and yet, we’ve already had a couple United is now flying planes between San Francisco and LA with biofuels with a far lower greenhouse gas emissions impact. There are innovators working in downtown LA right now at the LA clean tech incubator on electric airplanes. And already, they’re able to fly, you know, short haul private electric planes, you know, and that technology is only gonna get better and better, it’s very unlikely that we’ll be flying electric planes to London anytime soon, but certainly to San Francisco or Sacramento, that is very much in the works as a possibility.
And by the way, to London, hopefully those will be airplanes that will be fueled by hydrogen. And if we’re able to really get much more careful about the leakage issues and other EQ issues that they have with regards to hydrogen. So there are there are technology opportunities that are out there. Just like with the plastics we were talking about before, it’s all about putting in place the environment that will help to allow these innovators and new technologies to grow, and allow us to make this transition more more more robustly more forcefully more effectively.
What I’d ask you, I read an article recently that they were saying that if we had 100 square miles of solar panels, that would be enough to power the US. Where are we at in terms of the solar rollout? In in California? I know, there’s been a lot of hiccups and trying to get things through Sequa sometimes and sometimes thing that slows a lot of projects down. And then, of course, the bottlenecks of getting things from China and so on and so forth. Are we on, on track to to build out enough solar to meet our needs?
I wouldn’t, I think we’re making a lot of progress. I wouldn’t say we’re on track to fully meet our needs. But we are making a lot of progress. I mean, there’s industrial scale solar. That’s that’s that’s, that’s being built in various parts of the state. I will say this came up at an event I was out last night, that we do have a problem on our hands in terms of kind of a concerted effort to, you know, against against the rooftop solar folks.
There are people in the utilities and some of their partners who have been working hard to try to undermine the incentives for rooftop solar, under the guise that they’re forcing everybody else to subsidize the transition to rooftop solar, my answer to that is, well, then let’s tweak the formula a little bit more, but we shouldn’t be doing anything that would harm the rollout of rooftop solar that creates more resiliency and gets more people into the game.
And also does so in a way that doesn’t impact desert environments as much as the as the industrial scale solar typically does with things like the big project out and Ivanpah. So, you know, and of course, we also know we have to build a massive transmission transmission network, which has its own environmental challenges associated. So we are we’re we are we are making surprisingly good progress.
But there are a lot as you correctly mentioned, a lot of of logistical and physical and regulatory hurdles and barriers, and also some philosophical ones. So we have to work our way through. You know, I mean, people in the labor movement, for example, you know, don’t love the fact that the rooftop solar world is largely non unionized in the traditional utilities are and so they tended to kind of double down on the utilities approach to this stuff. And so how do we figure out a way to square some of those round pegs.
So um, let me ask you on that front, because I really think that this an important issue is, I really feel like we should have been incentivizing commercial buildings in particular, to go rooftop solar, because they have the enormous capacity. I was down at an event down at all to see with Terry Timmerman and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they opened it up and they had 800.
They could power 800 homes based upon that one array on an old warehouse, in in around the port of LA. I mean, and Schwarzenegger had said, if we had rooftop solar on all of our commercial buildings would be enough to power the entire state. What can we what can we do to incentivize that?
Yeah, I would like, I am in the camp. That is skeptical of the current trajectory at the Public Utilities Commission, that I think has been buying the utilities line to questioningly. You know, I think that there’s a lot of opportunity with rooftop solar. And I understand there were some inequities associated with the the former, the previous form of rooftop solar that we had. But I don’t think I think we got to be really careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I think there’s a lot of value to to aggressively incentivizing more rooftop solar. And, you know, I’m, I’m count me in the group that’s out there, kind of advocating at the PUC and also within the legislature for this for the solar industry. I mean, I understand, you know, there there continue to be concerns out there about, about the quality of the jobs and some other issues.
And I think those are issues that we can resolve to ask you in terms of the PUC. What both explain it for the audience as to why this is important. And because this is kind of one of these organizations is kind of under the radar bit. And what what average citizens can do to lobby their governmental officials to change the policies of PUC?
Yeah, I mean, there are groups that if you are if you are a rooftop solar person yourself, you know about these groups, because there’s there’s an alliance that’s out there advocating pretty aggressively for rooftop solar and for the rooftop solar community. So basically, the PUC is a is a is a commission that’s been largely made up of it’s basically made up of gubernatorial appointments, appointees, who are supposed to oversee and regulate the utilities system, and do so in a way that’s equitable.
One of the tension points that’s come up is who should you know how much should we be incentivizing rooftop solar, when it’s largely been something that wealthier people and wealthier parts of town have taken advantage of not entirely, by the way, lots of people from all different backgrounds use rooftop solar. But one of the arguments of the utilities I think it very effectively used in this argument is that we’re basically asking, you know, folks who don’t have the opportunity to put rooftop solar on their own roofs to subsidize those who do.
And, you know, I get that I also get the fact that we need more solar power generation in general. And, you know, I really hope that the Commission can find a better way of striking a balance, I worry that they haven’t, they really haven’t struck that balance properly, up until now.
Well, we certainly hope that the governor and his folks up on the Public Utilities Commission do not overly favor the utilities because they’ve kind of gotten us into the situation in the first place. So and I feel like it will also help on the transmission side, because we won’t need as many big power lines running through our neighborhoods if we have more middle kind of micro grids.
But please stay tuned. We’re, we’ll be right back with Senator Ben Allen, you’re listening to A Climate Change and we’ll be back in one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. And I’ve got Senator Ben Allen on the program. Senator, why don’t we pivot to water since we’re here in California, we always have to talk about water. We had a great, you know, year last year got a ton of rain. But I guess we can’t kind of forget the fact that this may not happen every year.
Oh, yeah. Well, yeah, it won’t happen every year. We know that, in fact, we know there’s going to be a lot of swings, as climate change impacts our environment. So it was a great year, from a water perspective, we certainly were able to replenish so much of our groundwater system in our in our snowpack. And, and that was a lot of our reservoirs.
That was wonderful. But we also know, we need to plan for the future, through better water management systems in general, through an overhaul, you know, through through through through a serious conversation about about water rights, and water allocations and the responsibilities of the Water Board.
And then, you know, quite frankly, you know, I also think we need to we need to think about everything from water flow to water storage. There’s a lot of work that and recycled water to there’s a lot of work that has to happen in this space. And so it’s gonna take some difficult, difficult and important work. Well,
I don’t know if the state has anything to do with regulating the water rights of so those farms down in the Mexicali area that that on the border there, which get more water than the entire state of Nevada and Arizona combined. Which is kind of crazy because they’re growing crops that they’re exporting like alfalfa, which we don’t even need here in California. Can we distribute the water a little bit more fairly? Because it seems crazy that we’re paying to water the desert essentially.
Yeah, this is a really tricky topic, right? I mean, think you got people that are just Sitting on water rights that date back to, you know, to earlier times, our whole water rights system is largely kind of comes out of the English common law riparian rights system, which, you know, makes a ton of sense from a British context when you’ve got nothing but rain, right?
I mean, the British are famous for their rain. And so the the rather generous concepts that undergird water and riparian rights in the English common law just don’t apply very nicely or effectively to a fundamentally different climate that we have here in California. In fact, Australia, which, of course, is also an English common law country, had to totally break with English common law on this topic, because they have a similar climate to ours.
And they’ve now created a system in southeast Australia, where much of the people live, where there’s a certain alligator, they know exactly what all the water levels are at all times, you can get an app right now and find out exactly where every reservoir water level, every river water level, every every stream, in southeast Australia, and there’s a certain amount of water that’s allocated per person, you know, for personal use, and then everything else is a market. It’s an open market. So then those years, where there’s where there’s more water available, water prices come down.
And those years where there’s less water available, water prices can go up. It also incentivizes preservation conservation. That’s something that they were able to do in Australia, very difficult thing to do here in California, given all the powers that be and you just mentioned one example. Yeah, so we got to build through it was surprisingly difficult. Just Just this last year, SB 389, which, which looks at this whole question of giving the waterboard the right to, to chase down potentially fraudulent or false water rights that date from before 1914 until we got our bills across the finish line.
The waterboard didn’t even have that power, which is extraordinary given what an important task we give our water board with ensuring an equitable and sustainable distribution network of water for the state. And by the way, there are far more water rights out there than there is water in the state of California. So we’ve got a problem on our hands, we know the problem is only going to get worse as climate change gets worse.
We do need to do better at dealing with the big swings in the amount of water that come in and out of our system on a yearly basis with climate changes and reality. But I think we also need to start taking some more substantial steps to to square the realities, the hydrological realities with the law. And right now they’re just you know, the law I think is kind of has its head in it sand, it heads in the sand with regards to, to right, when compared to how much water is actually out there and available.
And a couple of my colleagues, Buffy wicks and Rebecca Bauer Kahan have have bills that will give the waterboard more powers to to act decisively during times of water emergency and, and under under exigent circumstances. And yet, they have unfortunately, we’ve run into some brick walls, because the powers that be don’t want to see change in this area.
And yet, you know, I would argue that we need changes there. In fact, the powers that be have a vested interest in seeing change in this area, just because, you know, the system that we’re sitting on right now is simply unsustainable and untenable.
Yeah, it seemed as though during the midst of our rainy season, there was a lot of excess water coming down certain rivers, and they were having a hard time taking that water and putting it into groundwater recharge in various areas, because you’d have to jump through all these hoops to get to the point where you could do it. And then by the time they jumped through all the hoops, the water is gone. So it’s it’s kind of crazy that we can’t even use effectively, the water that we we have when it’s raining. I mean, that just doesn’t make sense.
Yeah, it doesn’t make sense. And yet one of the problems is that, you know, you got so many everyone has such a, there’s so much nervousness about any changes in the status quo. I found this when I started to dip my toe in the proverbial water, no pun intended on this topic, because you start to realize that when you when you try to ask fundamental kinds of fundamental questions, you don’t just have agricultural interests that raise concerns you have nearly every city up and down the state.
hat raises concerns because they’re so nervous about any changes that might be made to the water rights system because they rely on their water districts to provide them with reliable sources of water and when their water districts get nervous, they get nervous and so it just creates a lot of political challenges.
But look, these this bit, this Wix, we got our bill through the Wix in the button, the Barco. handbills were were important media, aggressive details they both got out of the state assembly. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to shake them loose in the in the State Senate and this coming year.
And, you know, what, we’ll see how they go. But, you know, it’s hard to make changes, it’s hard to make changes to the status quo. And you know, we need to We need public knowledge and advocacy on this topic.
Yeah, well, I appreciate you putting it out on the forefront and giving our listeners a chance to engage on this and get behind these important bills. Tell us a little bit about who your heroes are. Who would you put on your Mount Rushmore of environmental heroes? And why?
Oh, that’s a great question. Gosh. Well, I love man. That’s a really good question. I obviously, I love some of those folks. You know, back in the day, who spoke so lovingly about nature and wrote to leveling about nature, you know, whether it be some of the great poets, Wordsworth, Keats, some of the great writers like John Muir, I mean, obviously, he’s had some copies. He’s been a controversial figure. But I do, John Muir did was such an important figure in understanding the importance of conservation and building political relationships.
That allowed for the for beautiful place special places like Yosemite National Park and so many others to get preserved and set aside. I would point out a guy like Anthony Bailenson, who was the congressman from the area just northwest of me, who played a big role in working with advocates and activists in the creation of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is this beautiful national park system.
You know, area that is now you know, preserving your acres and acres of open space for generations of Angelenos from all different backgrounds to enjoy and explore. My dad is a hero of mine environmentally. He’s someone who really did instill in me a really strong sense of environmental protection and stewardship, he would take me hiking in those Santa Monica mountains every weekend as a kid. I think there’s a he, I hear his voice all the time.
And we just I lost him this year, unfortunately. And I think about him so much as I do this work. There’s the question of wonderful new voices that are springing up environmental justice voices. You know, I mean, the the folks that worked with it at school, who know the late Cindy muntanya. So we unfortunately lost just this year, it was a great environmental champion. It’s especially for underserved communities.
But for all Angelenos, just as last year, I mean young people like Greta Thun, Berg, who is that who are out there, you know, just speaking truth to power unabashedly on the climate crisis. So there’s a lot of wonderful, wonderful, wonderful environmental leaders that I draw inspiration from and I’m, you know, I hope that I hope in my own small way to to inspire some other environmental activist myself as as time goes on.
Well, you certainly do, Senator and it’s been a pleasure as always having you on the show, Senator Ben Allen. Everybody should follow him on Instagram and all the other social channels, look at what he’s doing, support the causes that he’s talking about.
Thank you everybody, for listening in, check out our social channels and check out all of our podcasts you can hear online at aclimatechange.com as well as checks out on Spotify, and Apple and iHeart. Tune in next week. And until then, everybody be the change that you want to see in the world. Thank you.
Thanks so much.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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