Governor Gavin Newsom’s conversation with PPIC president Mark Baldassare last week focused on energy policy and climate change. After noting that it had been one year since PG&E declared bankruptcy, Baldassare asked the governor about his vision for the future of California utilities. Newsom responded by broadening the question. “We have to start thinking about our energy future and our transportation future and our low-carbon, green growth future in a collaborative mindset.”
In this context, he continued, “PG&E’s bankruptcy has turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity for this state. . . . It’s allowed us to ask questions . . . that otherwise weren’t front and center.” PG&E, he said, has to come out of bankruptcy with a vision for the future that prioritizes long-term thinking and public safety rather than shareholder return. The bottom line? California needs a “transformatively different” utility. And, he added, “if PG&E can’t do it, we’ll do it for them.”
Key to planning for the state’s energy future is making sure it works for all Californians. Going green, Newsom said, “can’t mean more income inequality.” It has to benefit both the “haves” and the “have nots”—creating jobs and ensuring affordable energy, and mitigating the dislocation that comes with change.
Another key area is wildfire mitigation and prevention. Newsom noted that the 2019 fire season was less damaging than other recent seasons, in part because “we’ve never been more prepared.” The state has been investing in new technology that monitors and predicts wildfires, as well as equipment for suppressing fires and responding to crises.
Wildfire prevention is complex, in part because, as Newsom pointed out, the federal government owns the majority of forest land in California. “We are doing the job the federal government is no longer doing,” Newsom said, adding that “the Trump administration’s budgets have been proposing cuts to forest management.” Land-use patterns are another complicating factor. New building codes have helped recently built housing survive fires, but there are a large number of older buildings in fire-prone areas.
As Newsom sees it, the challenge of implementing the state’s ambitious climate mandates is to bring politics and policy into alignment. “Politically, I recognize that what’s necessary may be impossible. But also I recognize from a policy perspective that what is impossible has to become necessary.” The ultimate goal, of course, is to move California forward: “The world is changing. We have to change with it.”