California's power play on energy policy


California has long been a rogue state in terms of leading the nation on energy and environmental policy. From tailpipe emisissions to HVAC equipment energy standards, California has given bellyaches and migranes to national trade associations and federal agencies for years, some of which have gone to the Supreme Court for resolution. Through elections, appointments, and good old-fashioned power grabbing, California has recently established itself as a powerhouse for shaping national energy and environmental policy under President Obama's administration. Here's how the table is set.

The secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Energy is Nobel Laureate Steve Chu, former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), which is based in Berkeley, Calif. DOE's network of national labs has a collective portfolio that ranges from residential building codes to nuclear weapons development. Chu's credentials at LBNL bill him as one with vision and leadership, and as “one of the nation's foremost and outspoken advocates for scientific solutions to the twin problems of global warming and the need for carbon-neutral renewable sources of energy.”

However, Chu is just one of California's key players at the forefront of energy and environmental policy making. Others include:

  • Henry Waxman, D-Calif ., the head of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives. Waxman, with the help of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif ., succeeded in a hostile takeover of the committee chair, ousting John Dingell, D-Mich ., who held the Democratic chair of the committee for 28 years, ostensibly as an ally to the auto industry.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif ., has a long history of policy involvement in energy and climate issues. A joint effort by Feinstein and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine , tax credits for energy efficiency and renewable energy passed in October 2008 as part of the economic stabilization bill authorizing the $700 billion bailout funds.

  • As the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is ostensibly the chief of the 10th largest economy in the world. Schwarzenegger campaigned to “make California No. 1 in the fight against global warming,” and walked his talk by signing legislation to knock California's carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

These individuals are just the tip of the iceberg. California has an army of administrators, lobbyists, and technical advisors for energy, many of whom have leadership positions in regional and national energy and environmental groups. A few of California's regulatory milestones include the Title 24 energy code for buildings (21% more stringent than ASHRAE 90.1-2004), appliance efficiency standards, tailpipe emissions, and utility rebate programs.

Yet, even with its relatively mild climate, California imports more power from other states than any other state does, and correspondingly exports a lot of its emissions. And its regulatory burdens are driving out many energy-intensive industries, thereby reducing its per capita energy use and emissions.

So how much of California's policies and programs are exportable?

Moderation and fairness are key. California needs to use its power wisely when shaping national energy and environmental policies.

Author Information

Ivanovich is the editor-in-chief of Consulting-Specifying Engineer. His background includes being a senior research scientist in the fields of green buildings and computer science for

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