California’s Newsom touts bills targeting greenhouse gas emissions

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom made a pair of big climate-change related announcements this weekend as Climate Week NYC kicked off in New York City.

During a Sunday interview at the event, Newsom said he plans to sign into law two bills approved by state lawmakers intended to force major corporations to be more transparent about greenhouse gas emissions and the financial risks related to global warming.

Senate Bills 253 and 261 could affect thousands of companies operating in California.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom shared his thoughts on climate change Sunday at the kickoff of Climate Week in New York.

Margarita Corporan

“Of course I’m going to sign those bills,” Newsom said. “California will continue to maintain that leadership.”

The annual event put on by the nonprofit Climate Group, which coincides with the U.N. General Assembly, reportedly prompted tens of thousands of people to turn out for a March to End Fossil Fuels in Manhattan.

The governor and California Attorney General Rob Bonta also announced the state is suing the largest oil companies for what they say are billions of dollars in health and environmental impacts to California taxpayers.

Bonta filed the lawsuit Friday in San Francisco County Superior Court alleging that Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and the American Petroleum Institute have known since the 1950s that the burning of fossil fuels would warm the planet, and that instead of alerting the public about environmental dangers, they chose to deny or downplay the effects.

Previous lawsuits filed against the oil companies by California cities have languished in court. In one such suit, the oil companies used San Francisco’s bond offering documents in a 2017 bond sale to show that even the cities have difficulties putting a dollar figure on the impact of climate change for such issues as sea level rise in California’s coastal cities.

John Cote, a spokesman for former San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, told The Bond Buyer for a 2018 article that the bond documents for San Francisco’s October 2017 sale do cite climate change and rising sea levels as a risk factor. The bond documents estimate that up to $62 billion in assets including roads, schools, hospitals would be at risk from a 100-year flood.

Bonta and 15 other attorneys general filed an amicus brief in federal appeals court in May supporting Oakland and San Francisco’s climate change lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies.

In their consolidated case, city of Oakland v. BP et al, the California cities claim the fossil fuel companies mislead the public about the known dangers of fossil fuel combustion and exacerbated the effects of climate change. The cities are seeking damages to remedy the impact of sea level rise and similar harms. The companies face more than a dozen similar lawsuits from state and local municipalities across the country.

Although San Francisco and Oakland originally filed separate cases in state court in September 2017, the cases were removed to federal court and consolidated.

Newsom plans to sign legislation California lawmakers passed last week requiring large businesses from oil and gas companies to retail giants to disclose their direct greenhouse gas emissions as well as those that come from activities like employee business travel.

SB 253, authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would require companies operating in California and earning more than $1 billion annually to publicly report all emissions associated with business operations. This would include both direct and indirect associations, including those created by the commutes of employees and contractors. The bill passed the Senate Sept. 11 on a 27-8 vote.

SB 261, by Sen. Henry Stern, D-Sherman Oaks, cleared the Assembly on a 41-17 vote after Stern added several amendments to make it more palatable to businesses. The Senate approved the bill earlier this year.

That bill requires large financial institutions and corporations, some of which will not be covered by the pending Securities and Exchange regulation, to publicly disclose climate-related financial risks to their bottom line. 

Stern’s bill was part of a package that cleared the Senate in May.

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