How Data Saved the Global Warmings Solution Act

After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, SB 32, an amendment to California Global Warmings Solution Act 2006, was signed by the Governor Jerry Brown on September 8th. The new law makes dramatic increases in California’s climate policy targets by requiring the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. This increases the greenhouse gas emission reduction from its former target of getting to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. There is a lot being written on what it will take to reach the new levels – and we will spend the next decade planning, modeling and tracking our progress towards those objectives.

But the bill itself almost never made it into law. The legislation was widely expected to be defeated in early August as the session neared to a close, as described below by the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board:

Four weeks from the end of the legislative session it appears that lawmakers will punt, rather than vote, on one of the most important environmental decisions facing California. At stake is the state’s leadership role in fighting climate change.

Mary Solecki of E2

Ultimately SB 32 passed, coming from its near dead status to last minute approval due to the work of a network of climate advocates. We wanted to learn a bit more about this dramatic turn-around by inviting Mary Solecki, Western States Advocate for E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), to share her insight into the advocacy process and the role that data, depicting the distribution of climate investment across the state had in supporting the bill.

Kevala: Can you start off by telling us about the importance of this legislation and how much effort went into getting SB 32 passed?

Mary: There’s at least two major impacts from SB 32, as I see it. The first is on businesses and their investments. We heard from a lot of companies that were trying to make investments in low carbon practices or technologies that needed to be making their investment and business planning decisions today to meet 2025 and 2030 targets. Sacramento may think in 2-and 4-year cycles, but businesses are laying investments for 10 and even 15 years into the future. They were seeing the current indecision as a threat to their businesses, and related carbon markets (under Cap & Trade and Low Carbon Fuel Standard) were also suffering. Putting 2030 targets into statute will profoundly guide the private sector and their investment decisions.

Second, California has touted itself as an international leader on climate action. After the Paris Climate Treaty, we had even more purpose to double down on our efforts. Faltering on our climate action would have sent ripple effects to many other jurisdictions considering their own climate policies.

In terms of effort to get SB 32 passed: this was a two-year legislative effort that was more difficult that it would seem in a progressive state like California. It is no small mention that groups like the oil industry were opposed to the bill. We were taken to task to prove the economic benefits of climate work across the state, and this work paid off – and will continue to be useful for other efforts in the future.

Kevala: Mary, can you share an overview of the SB 32 campaign strategy and which representatives you felt were most important to solidify to get SB 32 passed and why?

Mary: From the work that many of us did in 2015 on Senate Bill 350 (a bill to increase renewable energy & building efficiency), we learned that members of the “Moderate Democrat” caucus and other members had some lingering questions about the impacts and costs of California’s climate work.

For E2, our campaign strategy sought to address these concerns through a three-pronged strategy: district-level data that would absolutely answer their questions about local impacts; outreach to businesses and individuals within those districts to bring the data to life with local anecdotes; and telling these stories to the elected representatives and the media.

We knew there were strong answers to the questions that skeptical members were raising, but we were unsatisfied with the data sources out there. We wanted to provide reasons for the members to not only calm concerns, but to turn legislators into climate champions who would advocate for clean air and other benefits for their communities. Many legislators are still serving their junior term, so we wanted them to have a better understanding of California’s past climate policies and to feel ownership of what the state is doing today and in the future.

Kevala: It sounds like your meetings were very positive but the press and the Democratic leadership in Sacramento, weren’t optimistic – what changed the tide?

Mary: A lot of work by a lot of groups and individuals, essentially. It seemed like the naysayers had written SB 32 off as impossible, but those folks were not participating in all the positive meetings that we were. Once all of the information from the meetings was relayed on, I think leadership agreed there was a pathway to success, and they decided to roll up their sleeves.

Kevala: You leveraged work NextGen and Kevala had developed, and contributed to it to showed district level impacts and investment from climate policy. How did you use localized climate investment data in your lobbying and why was it important?

Mary: We worked with NextGen and Kevala to update the existing dataset to reflect recent community investments. E2 then translated this data into one-page fact sheets for each state Assembly district. These worked for our first engagements with many offices, who were looking for the high-level impact statistics for their districts. Some, however, had lots of questions and wanted to dig deeper into the data provided, and we were able to bring in the comprehensive maps that Kevala had built and walk them through specific programs and local investments. It was extremely helpful for legislators to be able to put their finger on specific projects and programs they had seen at work in their communities, and understand the policies that had jumpstarted those projects.

screenshot of application
Screenshot of the application developed for E2 and NextGen by Kevala

Kevala: Next year in the next battle over legislation do you think localized data and analytics will play a role, and how do tools like this help you do your job better?

Mary: Even more so! Now that we have communicated the first wave of this data to legislators, I expect them to want even more details and tangible evidence of local impacts for their continued support. Tools like this help us communicate to legislators, but also help us identify other businesses and projects we should reach out to.

Kevala: Is there any advice you’d offer for those people advocating for climate policy?

Mary: Despite climate policy being a global issue, it still adheres to the old adage that all politics is local. Making the case based on altruistic values can’t win all the votes, so data and business engagement is a critical part to winning – and keeping – additional allies.


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