Governor Newsom Announces He Will Sign SB253 and 261 at Climate Week NYC

Governor Gavin Newsom

Just a day after announcing that the state of California is suing five of the biggest oil companies in the world for damages caused, and to be caused, for their ‘decades-long campaign of deception’ surrounding climate change, Governor Gavin Newsom also announced, via an interview with the New York Times at Climate Week NYC, his intention to sign two recently passed California climate bills, SB253 and 261. These two bills will require major companies to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, a move with national and global repercussions. The Governor also spoke at length on California’s continued commitment to a green low carbon future, as well as his view that California is where the future happens first.

David Gelles, New York Times: Governor, thank you for being here. On Friday, I wrote a story about California filing a really landmark suit. California sued five of the biggest oil companies in the world, Chevron, a home state company, as well as Exxon, BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, as well as the American Petroleum Institute alleging decades of deception. What was the motivation for bringing the suit and what do you actually hope it will achieve? 

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California: Well, the very subject matter derives because of the folks you just listed. The climate crisis is, after all, a fossil fuel crisis, period, full stop. And these guys have been playing us for fools. They've been playing all of us for fools. They continue to play us for fools. They play on the progress we've made as small-ball; they've taken over the entire QA process. Please, give me a break this year. It's an embarrassment. And I guess I've had enough and I'm sick and tired of this and if California can make a dent, you know, with respect to those of you from Germany, in the soon-to-be fourth largest economy in the world, the size of 21 American states combined, the scale and scope of what the state of California can do, we think can move the needle. It sure as hell can do this and, forgive me for being long winded, it can illuminate their deceit. It can illuminate their deception and their lies. Over the course of 50-60-70 years. They've been lying to you.

Gelles: If you actually read the complaint, it's a pretty stunning document that goes into real detail about some of these claims. When you started to familiarize yourself with this story, how did it strike you, and I think I got a sense of it just given your reaction, as a Californian, as a governor, when you're dealing with these disasters, and then you put it together with what you were reading in that complaint and the claims you now make… How does it sit with you?

Newsom: I didn't know. I didn't know. I thought I knew a little bit. These guys have been lying since the 50s, the 60s, the 70s and 80s. They knew and they knew what to do about it to make sure we didn't do anything meaningful about it. We're living, as a consequence, in the world that I'm living in where the hots are so much hotter, the dries are so much drier, the wets are so much wetter. Third year of a drought. Week or two later, I'm now in the second or third week of the wettest three weeks in California history. Paradise, California was wiped off the map. Greenville, California, almost wiped off the map. Grizzly flats almost wiped off the map. Places, lifestyles, traditions, our history being wiped off the map, costing the taxpayers.. It's incalculable. I can't even provide home insurance right now. It’s one of the great crises in this country, ask the governor in Florida who still doesn't believe any of this, it's too close to home. If you don't believe in science, you’ve got to believe your own eyes, your lived experience, the vividness of this. We said a few years ago, Mother Nature is joining the conversation. But, it's vivid in places like California. We’re the tip of the spear, 1100 miles of coastline. It's not theoretical, it's practical. And, I'll be candid with you, now I know, I get it now. I get it. I get why three years ago when I stood on this stage, quite literally a few inches from where I'm sitting, I get why I was so naive. Because I didn't know the depths of their deception.

Gelles: The case calls for the creation of an abatement fund. You just mentioned, it's incalculable. In the suit, in the complaint, you talk about 10s of billions of damages to California already and multiples of that in the years ahead. How do you think about these companies’, which you've now sued, financial responsibility? At a moment when many of them are enjoying record profits, what do you ask them?

Newsom: I mean, where's your decency? Just think about Chevron alone. You mentioned a California based company, $75 billion of stock buybacks and dividends. Ask Mike. Decent guy, I'm sure, or I thought before we filed the lawsuit. I finally understood, more than I did before we put together all the evidence, how much he's invested in renewables versus the deceit and the perpetuation of their interest in the issue of climate and their commitment to low carbon green growth. It's incalculable in terms of the dollars, the lives lost, the funerals, the dead bodies in Paradise, California. People whose lives have been cut short because of health risks, and health related costs because of the pollution and the smoke that they're sucking into their lungs. This is serious, and the despair… I got a 13 year old daughter, she's here, literally, in New York on one of those dream things. We did Breakfast at Tiffany's.. blessed that we got in. She'll turn 14 on Monday. And you know what? Her lack of optimism, that's incalculable, as well. And perhaps there's the greatest shame of all. Her anxiety that she and her friends have; a 13 year old, who should be spoiled with idealism and optimism, is filled with dread and stress because she's seen her dad come back from too many wildfires, too many droughts and floods. This is a serious, serious moment and we cannot address this issue, with all due respect to all the conversations and panels, unless we get serious about addressing the issue and the issue is fossil fuels and the issue is the deceit from these companies.

Gelles: I'm going to reclaim all the applause time and we're just gonna keep going. We've got more to talk about, besides this case. It's a landmark case, it's going to be very interesting to see how other states respond. I heard that other cases have been sort of waiting in the wings to see if California would go. We will see what happens. 

I want to ask you, though, about some internal bills in the California Legislature. Earlier this month, the California legislature put forward two bills: SB253 and 261. The first would require major corporations doing business in California to disclose their carbon emissions, including Scope Three emissions. The other would require them to disclose their climate related risks and put forth a plan. You have until October 14 to decide whether you will sign them. Are you going to sign?

Newsom: I'm going to directly answer that. I'm not going to do the politician thing, answering my own question, but I want to say a couple of things because I think you'll know where I'm going with the answer. And I hate that yes, no game. But, I also abide by clarity. 

What we love about California, when we talk about California, it's not just a state of dreamers and doers of entrepreneurs and innovators, but it's a state that has long prided itself on being on the leading and cutting edge. The future happens in California first. First cap and trade program in the nation. The first state to address the issue of tailpipe emissions, going back to Ronald Reagan in 1967, when we started to address that issue, codified by a Republican in the 1970s by the name of Richard Nixon in the Clean Air Act, where you actually had Republicans and Democrats that understood these fundamental issues, low carbon fuel standards. 

California has been on the cutting edge, and a few years ago, I required every car sold in the state of California will be an alternative fuel car by 2035. This is the first time we have done that, and the first state in the nation to do that. The point is, would I cede that leadership by having a response that is anything but, of course I will sign that bill? No, I will not. Of course I'm going to sign those bills and California will continue to maintain that leadership. With a modest caveat, we have some cleanup on some little language. I didn't want to begin there by confusing you. I just want to let you know that we want to continue to lead and that it is not inconsequential that we had a lot of opposition in the chamber on these bills. 

I don't normally talk about bills, but it would be wrong for me to be here at climate week and not talk about these two landmark bills. The one in particular that will generate more interest in climate risk is this disclosure bill, and that is for businesses that earn over a billion dollars a year in California. That's over 5300 businesses. So, it's not insignificant. And of course there are multinationals, and there's some of the world's most well known businesses in the world. And I'm proud, in closing, that a number of them recently, in the last few days, came on board, like Apple, to their credit, Salesforce, to their credit, some of the larger companies realizing they see where the puck is going and they're gonna do the right thing and support it and not do everything to stop me from getting back home so I can officially sign those bills.

Gelles: You heard it here first. 

More news in California this year on permitting reform. This is one of the most central issues as we think about building out the clean technology we need to make the transition that you were talking about earlier in this conversation. Not easy though. You got permitting reform into the budget, but faced enormous, enormous opposition from environmentalists, including the Sierra Club of California. How do you think about this tension, between conservation, between protecting nature, and actually speeding up and allowing for the development that is needed?

Newsom: It's not an ideological exercise. I'm not working for a think tank. I mean, we've got to practically go out there and do the hard work. And things can't take 5, 10, 15, 20 years and, by the way, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 years for large scale green projects. I mean, it's the great implementation now. We're in the “how” business, not in the “what and why” business. Five years ago we were “what and why.” We have ambition. There's no state in the country that has more ambition. 

I mean, everybody's now got ambition. I'm not inspired any longer by ambition, signing something for 2050, 45, 30.. What are you going to do? What's the game plan? What's the toolkit? And what we were missing in California was the capacity to deliver because the world we invented- I love it in many ways, shapes or forms- See, the world we invented, paralysis by analysis, has gotten in the way of progress. And we've got to move. 

So yeah, I was stubborn, and I put it in- This is a technical point, roll your eyes, but David said something very important- the reason I put it in the budget is I attach that level of prioritization to it, that this wasn't separate. This was fundamental and foundational to the fate and future of our transition to a low carbon green growth future. And so we needed to get that done and we got it done. And it’s phase one and watch this space. We're gonna be doing a lot more and so I say this to all of you that want to invest in the future, the fate and future of this planet. But also if your interests are aligned with our interests, I mean, we are that tentpole in terms of environmental policy; we care what happens in Washington DC, but California will remain a partner in progress. And with these implementation strategies, all the Biden administration has done to incentivize this space, there's simply no better place to invest in a low carbon green growth future than in the state of California.

Gelles: Can you do it though, if you can't get insurance? I want to come back to this issue. And when you talk about the disasters, the climate related extreme weather that California is experiencing, you mentioned the fact that it's hard for homeowners, even businesses, perhaps, to get insurance. Should people still be moving to California? And what are you going to do to fix the insurance market?

Newsom: We're working on it in real time. I mean, it's stubborn. And this, by the way, you already know, this is not unique to California, quite the contrary. I mean, and this is also not unique just to Florida and Louisiana. I talked to the governor up in Colorado, struggling with similar issues. This is an issue all across the United States and around the globe. And so it's profoundly consequential, particularly in California, where we have passed an initiative, many moons ago, that actually caps the cost that ultimately are borne by homeowners. Now, that's wonderful. 

The challenge now is the competitive landscape is changed and people are pulling back from writing policies. And so we have got to address that issue. We're trying to do it in real time. We fell short last week. We were this close to a bill landing on my desk. We fell short, as I said literally the day after, and it's nice to have a speaker of our assembly who said the same thing. This is a red flag, not a yellow flag. And we are not going to be waiting until January, the next legislative session, to address it and so, in real time, we will be moving with some creative ideas. Watch this space.

Gelles: In closing I want to invite you to sort of sketch out two scenarios, one in which the pace of progress remains what it is, which scientists will tell you is insufficient. That looks like: more climate related disasters, more extreme weather, a broken insurance market, the continued burning of fossil fuels.. You got friends in Washington trying to stop your 2030 EV mandate. Some of that doesn't get done. The other scenario is a greener California.

Newsom: That question reminds me that there's an old song that talks about the fresh air of progress versus the stale air of normalcy. You describe the stale air of normalcy. We are in the fresh air of progress. You also mentioned- I think you should know this directly, and forgive me- but the person that led the effort to rollback our 2035 alternative fuel vehicles mandate is the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States, someone by the name of Kevin McCarthy, a Californian whose constituency more than any others is impacted by the issue of climate change. It was disgraceful. He is, and dare I say it and forgive me- I'm a much nicer guy than I may be appearing today- but, he's a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil interests, a wholly owned subsidiary. Look it up, look where the money is. And he's a cheap date. It don't even cost much to buy him off. It's disgraceful. What's happening to children in his district, grandkids in his district.

This is serious. This is a serious moment in the context of your question. I am also not naive, you know. California, larger than 21 states combined, the fourth largest economy in the world. Yawn. You know? We need everybody. That's why we're all here. I recognize, you want to go fast, go alone. You want to go far? We have to go together. 

It's the power of emulation. Success leaves clues and I just want to end on that. We have six times more clean energy jobs than we do fossil fuel jobs already. California to GDP, look it up, in 2021 was 7.8%. We've been the tentpole of the American economy. We've been proving the paradigm. You could do this and significantly change the way we produce and consume energy. I mean, ask Elon Musk. He had a run back from Texas to reopen his R&D headquarters in California because he realized that's where the talent is. 56 manufactured ZEV companies now in California, it is one of our top exports. Policy is an accelerator and that success does leave economic cues for this nation. That's why I'm so proud of the President and his leadership. 

The irony shouldn't be lost on anyone. Most of that money is going into states whose leaders oppose that leadership. Yet, they're all enjoined. None of them ever rejected the magnificence of the American people in terms of their tax credits, or their direct subsidies. And if they do, we are happy to receive that redirection of resources. And that perhaps is the greatest proof you need that we are on the right track and we have to quadruple down. We have one thing that folks like Kevin McCarthy will never have, and that is moral authority on this issue. We need to exercise not just our formal authority, but we need to share our moral authority more abundantly, not just here, but every day and everywhere. Thank you all very, very much.

“What we love about California, when we talk about California, it's not just a state of dreamers and doers of entrepreneurs and innovators, but it's a state that has long prided itself on being on the leading and cutting edge. The future happens in California first.” - Gavin Newsom, Governor of California