Former California Senator Kevin de León is back in campaign mode after announcing this month he will vie for a city council seat in Los Angeles, and is continuing to center environmental issues among his core policy interests.
Speaking at a University of California-Berkeley energy summit on Friday, de León expounded on environmental racism and energy access in California while offering choice words for the current federal administration.
“Politicians in Washington, D.C. need to get off their ass and start leading by example, the way we’re doing in California,” he said.
As Senate President Pro Tem, de León was instrumental in advancing California's environmental agenda while in office. Most notably, he was the author of SB 100, a landmark piece of legislation that requires the state to get 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free resources by 2045. While SB 100 is one of California's most ambitious climate policies enacted to date, de León acknowledges that the work isn't done yet.
Despite his emphasis on the state’s leadership, de León said California needs to do more in correcting the pollution that disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income communities in the state.
He cautioned against “boutique environmentalism” that allows for only the wealthy to access clean energy technologies like zero-emissions vehicles and rooftop solar. Instead, he said the state needs to move forward with its “efforts to democratize climate policies so that all individuals, no matter the color or the hue of your skin, your creed, your religion, your ZIP code or your tax bracket, can access the benefit of the latest and the greatest clean energy technologies.”
De León’s appearance comes soon after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the L.A. Department of Water and Power would work in the next decade to phase out three gas plants located in or near highly polluted communities, paving the way for investments in more clean energy. De León supports that decision, and said that if elected to the city council, he looks forward to pushing for the types of energy policies he’s boosted at the state level and in his race for the Senate. He added that L.A.’s size and prominence offers an opportunity to set an international example.
“With the upcoming Olympics, the eyes of the world will be watching Los Angeles,” he said. “We have an incredible opportunity to showcase clean energy initiatives and technologies that will decarbonize our grid, allow people to move in and around the city in a much more efficient, less carbon-intensive manner, and again, allow our children to breathe easier.”
He said the specific environmental and energy planks of his campaign are being drafted “as we speak.” And while he didn't win his bid for a federal congressional seat, de León said he’s eager to rack up accomplishments at the local level.
“Local government is where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “You can get things done at the local level that are much, much more difficult to do at the federal level.”
100 percent renewables and a regional grid
That doesn’t mean he won’t be weighing in on state and federal politics, though. On Friday, he said it’s likely that California will reach its 100 percent clean energy goal a decade early. And he also nodded at several other energy issues embroiling the state, including regionalization of the electricity grid. While SB 100 cleared the legislature last year, an effort to connect California’s grid to other Western states stalled.
“Conceptually, I support regionalization,” de León said. But, like many environmental advocates, de León said he’s concerned the policy would leave the door open to thermal energy imported from other states.
“We can’t have our climate change leadership in California undermined,” he said. “So, there are a lot of questions that must be answered before I would feel safe about moving forward.”
In the matter of Pacific Gas & Electric’s high-profile bankruptcy, de León said the onus should not fall on the state’s residents.
“I believe those who are culpable should be made responsible financially,” he said. “I believe a fair deal should be explored, without question. But I don’t believe the taxpayers should be on the hook to pay for any of the devastating wildfires.”
Along with 28 other state senators, de León last year voted for a controversial bill that loosened the potential liability on state utilities in some wildfire cases.
The city council candidate also said he appreciates the efforts behind the Green New Deal, a resolution advanced by some of the federal lawmakers who would have been his colleagues had he won a Senate seat.
“We need real action in real time. Not to wait for the right political moment,” said de León. “Someone who lost their home or has been unemployed as a farm laborer because there’s no water in the Central Valley, or someone’s child who’s asthmatic because of toxic fumes from a tailpipe don’t have the patience to wait for establishment authority in Washington, D.C. to get its act together and to deal with this issue.”
As for his own next high-profile move in the environmental space, de León offered this: More news is coming soon.