Gavin Newsom’s climate change record is not so hot

Loughlin Browne

On Sept. 29, California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted about the urgency of climate change action after meeting with President Donald J. Trump to discuss the California wildfires. During the meeting, the president denied climate change’s importance and many on Twitter praised Governor Newsom for being a champion of climate change solutions. However, offline, he has not been living up to his reputation. His record of unkept climate promises has earned Newsom a D on his Greenpeace report card.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Department of Conservation increased the number of oil and gas drilling permits under Newsom’s governance. These permits included 48 permits for fracking, a particularly destructive form of oil drilling. On top of this, Newsom has also not followed through on creating health protections for residents who reside near these drilling locations, despite asking the state’s oil regulator whether buffer zones were necessary. 

The boards he has appointed have actually rolled back the progress made by previous administrations. His Public Utilities Commission appointments voted unanimously in March to set a 2030 power plant emissions rate reductions target of 25 percent. According to the LA Times, this is a slower rate than that of the past 10 years’ reductions. Similarly, the Newsom-appointed State Water Resources Control Board voted in September to extend the operation of four coastal fossil fueled power plants. 

Most incriminating of all, Newsom has taken donations from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), which he has publicly criticized for their role in California’s wildfires. Even after the PG&E was held responsible for deaths and damages in the 2010 San Bruno explosion, Newsom continued to accept their money for his campaign and passed emergency proclamations allowing more pollution to be emitted from PG&E’s generators and power plants. As of 2019, he had received $227,000 in campaign affiliated donations from PG&E, while his wife’s nonprofit received approximately $358,000 in donations between 2011 and 2018 and his sister’s nonprofit received $10,000, according to The Post. Unfortunately, according to Fox News, he is not alone. 98 members of the California legislature have received campaign donations from PG&E, though some have returned them. 

The positive perception of Newsom’s climate policy is not completely unfounded. The governor has made many progressive promises in the past month, including an executive order announcing 30 percent of California’s land will be under conservation protections by 2030. 

“When we talk about climate change, we get so consumed by [the] energy and industry, commercial and residential side of this equation, and we forget our working lands,” Newsom stated at a press conference on Oct. 7. In September, he declared that by 2035 all gas-powered cars in California will have been phased out. However, as it is unlikely that he will remain in the same office over the next decade, his control over the implementation of these claims is relatively minimal and does not overshadow his rollbacks of past administrations’ progress. 

We often refuse to hold our elected officials accountable as long as they have a basic understanding of civility and spout liberal ideas, but when it comes to our planet, we do not have time to waste on empty promises. If we refuse to recognize our leaders’ mistakes, we’ll never make progress against climate change. Without public outrage, our leaders have no incentive to improve.