Welcome back to The Planet You Save May Be Your Own, a weekly newsletter on local & state climate action.
Last week, California sued Big Oil.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta is alleging five major fossil fuel companies — Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron — and the lobbying group American Petroleum Institute, misled the public for decades about climate change while having full and detailed knowledge during that time about how burning fossil fuels would drive global warming.The state is seeking financial damages, including a fund to deal with the fallout from intensifying environmental disasters in the state — wildfires, drought and more.
Other states, cities and counties have filed similar suits, but California is the largest US jurisdiction — and one of the world’s largest economies full stop — to do so. It’s also the first oil-producing state to undertake a lawsuit, although the density of fossil fuel industry in the state is not as high as say, a Texas or New Mexico. California’s size alone makes it more able to put a finger on the scales in certain fights — and the state has become increasingly vocal about using that power.
The reporting record on what big oil companies knew about climate change, when and how they responded is already very well developed, and it’s probably notable that California made this move after the Supreme Court declined to move similar cases to the federal courts.
Still, the case will likely take years to resolve. But there’s been a lot of other climate movement in California recently. Let’s take a look.
Thanks to the consistently excellent work of Sammy Roth at the LA Times, we can take a look at the climate-related legislation that made it through this year’s session of the California legislature, and what didn’t.
Among those that passed: a bill that would make it harder for new oil and gas operations along the Pacific coast to be approved, make it harder for companies to dump old oil and gas wells before they need to be cleaned up, make it easier for wind and geothermal projects to be built by allowing the state to sign long-term contracts to buy electricity from those facilities and a bill that directed the state to study building solar panels along highways.
What was introduced but didn’t make it? A bill that would have tripled fines for releasing toxic pollutants from refineries— something that actually happened in Martinez, California last year, as well as a bill that would have required newly sold electric cars to be able to send power back to the grid.
One major successful bill I didn’t discuss above is one which directs companies doing business in California with more than $1 billion in revenue to report their emissions (including those from their supply chain). Among those companies are some of the world’s largest.
The governor says he’ll sign it. If he does — it would be involve more disclosure than what’s currently being considered by federal financial regulators for publicly traded companies. Of course, forcing companies to quantify the full scope of their emissions doesn’t mean they’ll reduce them. The rationale is that the information will give consumers — and investors — a fuller picture of the environmental and literal costs of large businesses' pollution, and potentially spur more investment in zero-emission alternatives.
Los Angeles is starting to put “cool pavement” in parts of neighborhoods with little shade as the city faces hotter summers, the Times reports. It’s a coating that reflects the sun’s light and minimizes heat absorption:
By reflecting the infrared spectrum of sunlight, the pavement reduces ambient air temperature up to 6 feet from the ground by 1.5 degrees on normal sunny days, and up to 3.5 degrees on days that are extremely hot, according to GAF, which makes the coating. The cooling benefits extend downwind of the coated areas as well.
But with temperatures climbing into triple digits, the coating is just a small measure combating the dangers of extreme heat. Experts say cities need a web of overlapping solutions to keep residents cool.
Designing and retrofitting cities to limit the urban heat island effect is an effort that’s both climate adaptation - improving our ability to live with higher temperatures — and mitigation, limiting the amount of energy — and for now carbon emissions — used for air conditioning.
Los Angeles targeted low-income neighborhoods for the cool pavement, in part because they are bearing more heat than other parts of the city, a pattern seen across much of the US, including Miami.
"Clean energy" everywhere: After my explanation of my beef with "clean energy" last week, I'm curious where you're seeing this term. You can send me examples -- whether you think they are appropriate or misleading -- by replying to this email or sending them to the Reusable Media Instagram account. I'll post a few of the best in a future edition.