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California State Senator Doubles Down On Efforts To Fight Climate Change


President Trump says he will pull the U.S. out of a landmark climate agreement negotiated with nearly 200 countries. The U.S. will join Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries to reject the Paris accord. But lawmakers in California are doubling their efforts to make the state an environmental leader. The legislature is considering a series of bills that would insulate California from actions in Washington. State senator Kevin de Leon is a Democrat from Los Angeles. He is the leader of Democrats in the California State Senate and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

KEVIN DE LEON: Hi, Robert. How are you doing?

SIEGEL: California obviously has the biggest economy of any state. If it were independent, it's often said it would be the fifth-biggest economy in the world. Are you trying to position California on the world stage as a foil to Washington?

DE LEON: Well, listen; we're not looking for a fight with Washington and specifically Donald Trump, but we have successfully delinked and decoupled carbon from GDP in California, which means we actually have lowered our greenhouse gas emissions while, at the same time, we have grown our economy to be the sixth-largest economy in the world. And there's only five economies in this world larger than California - the United States, Japan, China, Germany, on a good day - depending on the fluctuations of the sterling - United Kingdom, and it's California.

SIEGEL: Two days ago, the California State Senate passed legislation that would make it easier for the state to maintain current environmental standards and policies despite what the federal government might do. What exactly are you trying to preserve there? What's at issue?

DE LEON: Well, we're moving 100 percent clean energy by the year 2045. And the reason why we're doing so is that we have created 500,000 new jobs in the clean energy space. And I want to put this in context for all Americans. We have 10 times more jobs in California in the clean energy space than there are coal mining jobs in the entire country. And that's an astonishing number. So a withdrawal from the Paris accords would be devastating, I believe, to the economy of California. And that's why we are moving fast forward. We're forging ahead with or without Washington's help.

SIEGEL: But when you say reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, as of December, you were at 27 percent renewable. Do you really think that's a realistic target, especially if the administration in Washington isn't especially helping you in that direction?

DE LEON: Oh, very much so because we're not dependent on the administration in Washington to help reach our target goals when it comes to renewable portfolio standard. We would predict by 2022, 2024, the investor-owned utilities in California will hit probably 50 percent. They're on a fast pace. I give them a lot of credit because we have sent the right market signals that attracts necessary capital that has created technologies necessary to reach our emissions target goals. But this is the difference, Robert, when you move forward policies that are very intentional and purposeful to create jobs and to reduce carbon emissions, unlike what's happening in Washington.

SIEGEL: When you - you spoke of how many clean energy jobs there are in California. Are you at all concerned that withdrawal from the Paris Agreement might reduce U.S. demand for clean energy services or products or just energy and that that might in fact cost California jobs?

DE LEON: Well, it is very concerning to me because I think the Trump administration and Congress continue to surrender our nation's long-standing role as a global leader. What is happening right now is that we have President Trump literally serving the clean energy leadership mantle on a silver platter to the Chinese. The Chinese are more than happy to assume the No. 1 role as the global leader when it comes to climate change and clean energy. Will that have any impact on California's economy - without a doubt. But that's why we're moving quickly with 100 percent renewable portfolio standard clean energy to try to blunt as many potential job losses as possible due to Donald Trump's decision.

SIEGEL: And just very briefly, do you expect other states to join California and create a kind of a clean energy alliance?

DE LEON: I think it's quite possible with like-minded states like Washington and Oregon and the state of Massachusetts and New York that we can create an alliance where we can grow clean energy jobs and lower our carbon emissions and actually heed the accords of Paris.

SIEGEL: That's California's state senator and leader of the Senate Democrats, Kevin de Leon. Thanks for talking with us.

DE LEON: Thank you so much, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.