Two years ago, California governor Gavin Newsom announced that the Golden State had joined the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance, whose aim is to bring “together national and subnational governments committed to advancing a just transition away from oil and gas production.” This year, he signed a package of bills that the Los Angeles Times described as a continuation of a “fossil fuel crackdown.”
That characterization is apt. Other components of the crackdown include the governor and state attorney general Rob Bonta’s lawsuit against oil companies, a call for a windfall-profits tax at a time when profit margins in the energy sector are declining precipitously, ordinances that block the construction of new gas stations, an oil-industry “transparency” bill likely to damage an already-declining business model, and a de facto ban on new oil wells. These actions are inseparable from the state’s rush to end industrial and transportation carbon dioxide emissions. But California’s leaders don’t appear to have a backup plan if things go awry.
What if enough renewable power won’t emerge to keep electric vehicles charged? What happens if electric trucks and buses fail to live up to the hype? If “sustainable” aviation fuels are costly or ineffective? If trains and ships (already operating under costly fuel rules near the coast) can’t comply with ever-tightening climate regulations? In short, how can California keep its economy healthy if the transition to renewable energy doesn’t go smoothly?
Facts demonstrate the centrality of fossil fuels to the state’s economy. Oil production in a state with the sixth-most crude reserves nationally has fallen severely. Consequently, the state has increased its overseas crude-oil imports from 5 percent in 1992 to 59 percent to meet consumption demand. As production falls, imports rise.
Were California its own country, it would have the world’s fourth-largest economy. Both its physical size and financial might have necessitated the proliferation of airports, now numbering more than 140. None is quite as busy as LAX, but in a single year California air traffic burns more than 13 billion gallons of aviation fuel. No other state consumes as much.
Shipping, too, bolsters the state’s economy. It boasts 12 ports, including the nation’s two largest—Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle large volumes of both imported and exported goods. Much of the more than 400,000 barrels a day of residual fuel—primarily consumed as bunker fuel in the maritime shipping sector—used daily in the U.S. goes to ships moving in and out of California ports. Yet, these are already subject to fuel restrictions. And not only ships but also the trucks moving goods and the equipment handling cargo need massive amounts of fossil fuel.
California is also a rail center. Along with Chicago, Los Angeles and Long Beach are “by far the top U.S. metropolitan areas for intermodal volume” of shipping containers, according to the Association of American Railroads. But the engines feed on diesel fuel; in California, that means diesel-powered locomotives need to be phased out and replaced by engines with a “zero-emissions configuration.”
In short, it takes an enormous measure of crude oil to keep the California economy running—and that’s before automobiles enter the picture. The commitment to erase oil and gas from the state’s energy portfolio appears to know no bounds. Newsom and other public officials seem unlikely to reverse course or even slow their pace. Proponents call this dedication to the green agenda idealistic, but consigning 39 million people to a future of blackouts seems worthy of a less flattering term.
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