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Calif. senators pass 100% renewables, environmental bills as 'Trump insurance'

Combative California lawmakers blasted President Donald Trump's possible exit from the Paris Agreement on climate change as "destructive," "disappointing" and downright "Neanderthal," as they passed dozens of clean energy and environmental measures they hope will counteract the White House's energy policies.

Among the marquee measures advancing ahead of a June 2 deadline for bills to pass out of their respective house of origin were Senate proposals to set a 100% renewable energy target, meet the state's peak power demand increasingly with non-natural gas resources and a package of environmental protection bills designed to keep California protected by landmark federal environmental laws.

If Trump does indeed walk away from the Paris Agreement, "It only confirms that Washington is in retreat," California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León charged in a May 31 news conference. "Rather than stepping up to the challenges before us ... Donald Trump is ducking his responsibility as leader of the world, vacating the world stage at a time when American leadership is vital to the future of our planet and our children," said the Democratic senator from Los Angeles. "That's why California's leadership is critical ... We are sending a clear message to the rest of the world that no president, no matter how desperately they try to ignore reality, can halt our progress."

As an example, de León cited the Senate's passage of his Senate Bill 100 earlier in the day. The bill would accelerate utilities' current 50% renewables energy procurement mandate by four years to 2026 and set a new requirement of 60% by 2030, in addition to creating a goal of reaching 100% by 2045. "It is the most ambitious target in the world, especially for an economy that dwarfs all but a handful of nations," the senator said. "But we are ready for that challenge and, more importantly, we are ready to seize the opportunity."

PG&E Corp. subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Edison International's Southern California Edison Co. opposed the measure and appear likely to continue doing so as it moves to the Assembly. But ultimate passage would allow California "to lead the world in fighting climate change" while also strengthening the state's middle class "for decades to come" with clean energy jobs and affordable renewable energy, de León said. "This is how we win the future, whether Donald Trump or [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief] Scott Pruitt like it or not ... This is how we keep America's economy growing and thriving."

The senate leader also co-authored the California Environmental Defense Act, or Senate Bill 49, which passed the Senate on May 30 by a 24-13 margin. The bill would make federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, enforceable under state law even if the federal government were to roll them back. The Public Lands Defense Act, another measure passing May 30, seeks to protect federal land in California, while the Whistleblower and Public Data Protection Act, also advancing to the Assembly, would shield state and federal government employees from losing state licenses for reporting violations of law. It also protects scientific data at state agencies from censorship.

The package of measures aims to "protect the progress of the 50 years of bipartisan environmental leadership," de León said, and are "a model for other states to follow to shield their residents from Congress' onslaught on public health and environmental safeguards."

"We cannot govern based on hope and faith that somehow the Trump administration is going to wake up tomorrow and realize that climate change is real, that it is caused by man," added Sen. Henry Stern, co-author of S.B. 49. "We need insurance. To me this is a form of Trump insurance here to make sure that our clean air, our clean water and our values aren't subject to the whims of a president who can't get through a day without changing his personality entirely."

But one lawmaker expressed concern over the coverage of such insurance.

"Clearly California can't compensate for the monumental destruction the Trump administration is attempting to inflict on the country and the world," Sen. Scott Wiener said in an interview. "That said, we can help to counterbalance the Neanderthal approach to energy that this administration takes."