Politics

Gavin Newsom Wants to Export California’s Climate Laws to the World

Gavin Newsom, the California governor, packed his bags and his ambition Monday and flew to Chinese provinces on a weeklong mission to negotiate climate agreements.

Last month, he was the only American invited to address the United Nations about climate change, where he excoriated the fossil fuel industry for what he called its decades of “deceit and denial.”

He has signed a raft of laws and regulations to speed the nation’s most populous state away from fossil fuels, including a ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 and a mandate to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2045. He wants to end oil drilling in his state, a major oil producer, also by 2045.

The two-term Democratic governor wants California to set an aggressive pace for the nation — and the world — as time is running out to deeply cut the carbon emissions that are dangerously heating the planet. Mr. Newsom’s bold moves on climate have elevated his national profile, just as he is widely believed to be preparing for a White House run in 2028.

“We move the needle for the country and, as a consequence, for the globe,” Mr. Newsom said in a telephone interview Sunday night from Hong Kong. “And that is profound.”

Critics warn that some of Mr. Newsom’s climate policies are so ambitious as to be unrealistic, making them impossible to scale on a national or global level. Worse, they say, his headlong pursuit of his goals could disrupt California’s energy supplies, hike electric rates and devastate communities that depend on gas and oil drilling.

“The Newsom administration has been pushing harder and faster on a climate policy process that was already in place,” said David Victor, co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative at the University of California San Diego. “The challenge is how hard and fast can you push the system ‘til it breaks?”

Mr. Newsom said that technological changes in the way the United States produces and uses energy are happening so fast, that it makes sense to set ambitious targets. “The breakthroughs that are coming in the next few years will blow past the paradigm of limited thinking we have today,” he said. “We have proven again and again that through policy we can accelerate innovation.”

In China this week, Mr. Newsom plans to sign five agreements with leaders of Chinese provinces aimed in part at exporting some of California’s climate policies and technologies.

Mr. Newsom’s posture as a climate warrior would seem to help him in 2028, when Gen Z and millennial voters will dominate the electorate, said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster and political strategist.

“The 2028 president is going to have a base among young voters and they’re going to want to see that he’s been in the trenches of the issues they care about — if he makes it work,” Ms. Lake said.

Many of Mr. Newsom’s constituents see his zeal as the proper response to the wildfires, storms and drought that have devastated the state and been made worse by climate change. A February poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that three in four Californians think it is necessary to take immediate steps to counter the effects of climate change.

But Vince Fong, a Republican state assemblyman from Kern County, where the state’s oil industry is based, said that Mr. Newsom is charging ahead with high-level plans to slash emissions and shut down drilling with little regard for how to manage the economic fallout.

Southern California Edison workers examine a charred power pole inside the Tick fire zone in 2019. Credit…Kyle Grillot for The New York Times

“Governor Newsom is very good at the political rhetoric of demonizing energy production,” said Mr. Fong. “But his policies are not grounded in economic reality.”

Mr. Newsom joins earlier California governors who pushed the state to the vanguard of climate policy, including Jerry Brown, a Democrat who promoted rooftop solar and later traveled to China to talk climate policy with president Xi Jinping, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who helped craft the nation’s first major law to require cuts in greenhouse gasses and developed tailpipe emissions regulations that became a national model.

But Mr. Newsom, 56, has seized the climate mantle and made it his own. On top of the mandates to end emissions and compel sales of electric vehicles, he pushed California legislators to approve a record $52 billion in climate spending. Earlier this month, he signed a first-in-the nation law that would require major companies to publicly disclose all their greenhouse emissions.

And his administration is suing the world’s largest oil companies for the climate damages linked to their products. In addition, California has nearly stopped issuing new permits for oil and gas drilling. And it has created an agency to monitor oil companies for price-gouging or other illegal activities.

The governor says that while California helped give birth to the American oil industry in the 19th century, he sees no place for it now.

Oil drilling makes up less than 1 percent of the state’s gross domestic product and accounts for about 2 percent of its employment, said Ranjit Deshmukh, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who co-authored a

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