Capital News & Notes
For Clients & Friends of The Gualco Group, Inc.
IN THIS ISSUE – “Looking Forward to Tailwinds; All We’ve Had Are Headwinds”
- “California Climate Titans” Await Biden’s Call
- Who Else Goes to DC?
- Legislative Races: GOP Leverages Prop. 15 for Few Wins; Dems Turn OC Purple
- Newsom Ponders Pick for Harris’s Senate Seat
- Hydrogen Power Grows As California Fights Paucity at the Pump; A Fuel With “No Barriers”…Except for Elon Musk
Capital News & Notes (CN&N) harvests California legislative and regulatory insights from dozens of media and official sources for the past week, tailored to your business and advocacy interests. Please feel free to forward.
READ ALL ABOUT IT!!
FOR THE WEEK ENDING NOV 13, 2020
California’s climate titans are ready to come in from the cold.
Donald Trump spent the last four years trying to rein in California’s vast influence on American emissions, energy and environmental policy, given that any rule made by the nation’s biggest state ripples through the national economy. That ends in just over two months, when Joe Biden enters the Oval Office, and has consequences that stretch well beyond the Golden State, as key California officials regain their clout in Washington.
“We’re looking forward to some tailwinds, because all we’ve had is headwinds,” CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld, the state’s top environmental official, said in an interview. “We’ve spent so much time and energy just defending ourselves. The idea of being able to partner with the federal government and sit down and collaborate is almost foreign.”
Blumenfeld said California officials are eager to help Biden model federal policy in the Golden State’s image. “The really ambitious goals that he has in his plan, a lot of them are modeled on California,” he said. “We really want to work with the administration to show what is possible. Whether it’s his goal of getting 2035 carbon-free energy or how we think about zero-emission vehicles or building standards or all the things we’ve done over the last 30 years, what we want to do is work with him to scale that.”
The state’s long-serving climate and air pollution chief, Mary Nichols, is considered a top contender to become U.S. EPA administrator. Legal experts see Biden’s administration prioritizing a restoration of California’s legal ability to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles,especially if Nichols is named administrator.
“She could do a lot right away,” said Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment. “She can drop lawsuits right away. She can request courts to drop bad regulations and start over. She can at least stop the bad regulations from an environmental perspective right away and settle lawsuits with environmental groups right away. She can really ramp up enforcement right away. Starting new regulations is what takes time.”
Procedurally, the Biden administration could enter into negotiations over the 50-odd lawsuits Attorney General Xavier Becerra has lodged over environmental rules. The new administration will be checking to see whether any suits can be dismissed or settled based on commitments to reverse course.
“That’s probably going to be the most time-sensitive in many ways,” said Rick Frank, a former California chief deputy attorney general. The strategy is similar to the Bush-to-Obama handover, “but this is pretty much on steroids compared to that, in terms of the number and consequence of cases.”
Here are some key areas of California environmental policy where a Biden administration could significantly change direction:
Reversing the Trump EPA’s approach to California climate policies begins here: the agency’s withdrawal of permission under the Clean Air Act for California to impose greenhouse gas standards on vehicles and mandate zero-emission car sales.
Under Trump, the agency revoked the state’s Clean Air Act waiver — going further than former President George W. Bush, who denied California the waiver. President Barack Obama reversed that move, brokering national emissions standards jointly with California, and Biden is expected to quickly swing the pendulum back toward cooperation with the Golden State.
“Without that waiver in place and the ability to be more aggressive, it just really kneecaps California’s whole climate program,” Elkind said.
Biden’s EPA could immediately grant the waiver, letting California move forward with its own standards for model years 2016-25 and at the same time restoring the rules of 13 other states that had agreed to follow California’s lead. The agency may also attempt to withdraw Trump’s rule that slashed emission-reduction targets and reinstate the Obama-era regulation on the national level. Both are certain to draw legal challenges.
“Either we’ll see a very quick effort by the Biden administration to reimpose the Obama 2016-2025 standards, or we’ll see California move forward with a waiver from the EPA,” said Ann Carlson, co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law. “I imagine there’ll be a national effort. What that looks like and whether the car companies cooperate and whether there’s a challenge remains to be seen.”
The state is also likely to apply for waivers on other climate and clean air policies, having held out for a new administration to receive its petitions. California will look to move its Advanced Clean Trucks rule requiring manufacturers to increase the proportion of electric trucks they sell in the state through 2035 and Newsom’s executive order in September to ban new gas vehicles by 2035.
Besides climate change, the other California environmental policy arena the Trump administration has sought to rein in has been water. Trump has catered to farmers by seeking to increase pumping from the state’s main water hub, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, both through executive order and by revising protections for fish under the Endangered Species Act.
“Probably water allocation and climate change would be the two big pivots and increased opportunity for collaboration between California and the federal government after 4 years of conflicts and really outright warfare,” said Frank, the former California chief deputy attorney general. He is now a professor at UC Davis law school.
Biden could choose to stop defending the endangered species rules in court against Becerra and environmentalists, though it would be more complicated than just stopping proceedings. In general, Biden’s administration would have to find legal flaws in the Trump rules that would justify the courts handing them back to the agencies.
Under Trump, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also jump-started plans to increase water storage on the Sacramento River by raising the height of Shasta Dam, against the state’s wishes. That’s likely to lose momentum, Frank said.
But federal movement on California water will likely be slower than on climate. If Biden tries to undo Trump’s endangered species rules, he could also trigger a revolt from water users who had come to the table to discuss related water quality rules with Gov. Gavin Newsom that could reduce deliveries.
The head of the group representing the 27 water agencies that draw from the state-owned side of the canals and reservoirs said she hoped Biden would cooperate with the state.
“Water is a bipartisan issue. Regardless of where you may fall on the political spectrum, we all rely on clean, affordable water to run our homes, farms and businesses,” State Water Contractors general manager Jennifer Pierre said in a statement. “President-elect Joe Biden has indicated a commitment to cooperation, which is exactly what we need as California looks to settle lawsuits collaboratively and work together to achieve Voluntary Agreements that improve habitat and flow in the Delta and its watersheds.”
An out-of-control wildfire has no friends in California. So, at the least, a Biden administration promises to put an end to federal attacks on state’s forest management policies and Trump’s head-scratching calls for raking California’s forests. It’s not clear Biden will be able to break the logjam that’s resulted in overgrown forests that, along with climate change, are fueling the state’s record-setting blazes.
Neither the Trump administration nor the Obama administration did much to help California manage its forests — the majority of which are owned by the federal government — either by mechanically thinning out trees or by conducting prescribed burns to clear out underbrush, according to Bill Stewart, a forestry specialist at UC Berkeley.
The U.S. Forest Service signed an agreement with the state in August to try to treat 1 million acres per year. It’s a welcome move in need of funding.
“I don’t think that’s a game changer,” Stewart said. “They claim they’re going to treat all these acres; neither the feds nor California are really doing that much on that. To make that operational, you really have to bring in more people that have practical experience that were not involved in either the Obama or Trump administration on this kind of stuff.”
Still, Biden could push the Forest Service and FEMA to treat forest management as a climate issue, which could lead the agencies to improve risk modeling and spend more on protecting communities in forested areas. Spending on deferred forest maintenance could also create jobs, a wildfire policy expert said.
“Trump would show up and say the problem was raking the forest,” said Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy program at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment and chair of a state commission dealing with wildfire cost and liability. “Biden’s Interior Department is much more likely to be constructive on this and work to develop consensus and then fund the actions. Go to Congress and get the money to do things that will keep rural communities safe. That’s a big change.”
The Trump administration plans to open hundreds of thousands of acres of public land in California to oil and gas drilling despite legal challenges. The Bureau of Land Management is scheduled to hold its first lease sale in the state since 2012 on Dec. 10.
Environmentalists say Biden could revise two resource management plans that allow oil and gas leasing: one that covers 725,000 acres in the Central Coast and San Francisco Bay Area, and another that covers 1 million acres in the Central Valley and Central Coast. Those groups are planning to challenge next month’s sale in Kern County, but they also say Biden’s BLM could cancel leases if they find they were improperly issued.
“The lease sale was illegal, therefore the leases should be revoked by the Biden administration, and that’s what we’re going to be asking for,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Center.
The upcoming lease sale also provides an indicator of Trump’s approach to the waning days of his presidency — and how many more environmental policies Biden will be called to reverse.
“Is the Trump administration in this transition period post-election and pre-inaguration going to stand down?” Frank said. “Or is it going to go pedal to the metal to lock in as many of these plans and grant leases and other things as possible?”
After almost four years of President Donald Trump’s taunts as a state that’s “going to hell,” California is poised to be powerhouse with a Biden administration. California insiders say the home to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the most lucrative Democratic ATM should have a major footprint when Joe Biden and Harris begin filling thousands of posts to serve in a new administration.
California is home to some of the nation’s leading universities and the globe’s most-recognized tech firms, and the stars of its biotech, alternative energy and environmental policy scenes had clout in Democratic administrations under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But that waned with a Republican White House that saw Trump frequently using the state as a whipping boy to criticize policies ranging from forest management and water to immigration and taxes. Now California is eager to regain its stature with personnel in the next administration as well as the influence it enjoyed in setting environmental, energy and tech policy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is seeking another two years in the post, is certain to put her fingerprints on the new administration. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her husband Richard Blum — a Biden fundraiser — and some of the party’s generous donors in Silicon Valley and Hollywood like attorney Joe Cochett, another Biden bundler, can leverage their influence to bend the new administration’s ear as it runs its talent search.
Biden isn’t new to government and has his pick of former aides and relationships with politicos going back decades when he looks to fill Cabinet posts and White House jobs, including those who end up in the VP’s office. But thousands of gigs in Washington are going to change hands — and Californians are plotting their way in.
Cassandra Pye, a former adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said there’s no shortage of eager candidates: “Think about all the people who worked for Kamala. There’s a cadre of folks who came out of her office as AG.”
The lobbying has already started, said tech insider Wade Randlett, a Democratic bundler for Biden in Silicon Valley. “We’re officially in the bum’s rush stage.” Prospective candidates are calling up their contact lists, putting out feelers and hinting at their interest — directly or indirectly — to Harris insiders, top donors and those connected with past Democratic administrations.
After conversations with more than two dozen Golden State insiders, fundraisers and strategists, here are the Californians who may be in the mix:
Eleni Kounalakis: A former ambassador to Hungary in the Obamaadministration and the first woman elected to serve as California’s lieutenant governor, Kounalakis boasts deep experience in both foreign policy and executive suites. She also played a key role for Harris, helping to round up donors and influential elected Democrats to back the senator’s case for Biden’s VP slot. In a recent interview with POLITICO, Kounalakis said “I served my country and if called, I would never shy away from serving our beautiful country again.”
Jeff Bleich: The Bay Area power attorney is a longtime friend of Obama, a former ambassador to Australia, and was an A-list campaign bundler for Biden. Bleich was also special counsel during the Obama administration and ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018.
Ann O’Leary: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff already boasts White House experience: she worked several roles in the Clinton White House, before becoming Sen. Hillary Clinton’s legislative director.
Rep. Karen Bass: The Los Angeles Democrat and head of the Congressional Black Caucus made it to Biden’s VP short list. She’s vetted and ready to go for an administration post — and she’s also on the short list to be Harris’ replacement in the Senate.
Meg Whitman: Some California Democratic heads would explode if Biden — as reported — even considers tapping the former GOP gubernatorial candidate for a Cabinet post. But Whitman has abandoned the GOP since her pricey self-funded 2010 gubernatorial run against Jerry Brown, and became an outspoken Biden supporter and fundraiser. The former CEO of eBay, HP, and now head of Quibi, the recently defunct streaming service, Whitman’s got executive and finance credentials as a global star and female business leader.
Jared Blumenfeld: Newsom’s secretary of environmental protection is at the forefront of the state’s trend-setting moves on climate change and environmental issues. He served in the Obama EPA as regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest.
Julie Su: As Newsom’s pick to be secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Su has won praise for her work tackling labor challenges, including efforts to enforce workplace health and safety laws and is viewed as a contender for Labor secretary.
Mary Nichols: The outgoing chair of California’s Air Resources Board is widely respected in the environmental community, has served on the board under four governors and is an alum of the Clinton era EPA, giving her solid odds to lead the federal agency under Biden.
Arun Majumdar: During the Obama administration, the Stanford University professor led a new agency within the Energy Department focused on high-risk, high-reward approaches to renewable energy. Majumdar earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill and became a sought after figure at the intersection of finance and energy, potentially giving him a shot at energy secretary.
Xavier Becerra: The California attorney general, a Sacramento native, has sued the Trump administration more than 100 times on behalf of the state and is among top contenders to be a possible Senate replacement for Harris. But as a 12-term congressman representing Southern California, Becerra is a seasoned Washington veteran who is also viewed as having strong potential to land in the Justice Department or Homeland Security Department.
Rep. Mark Takano: The Southern California Democrat, who is both LGBTQ and Asian, serves as chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, where he’s been a staunch advocate for historic legislation on veterans health care.
Rep. Raul Ruiz: Ruiz is the rare member of Congress with frontline health care experience who could end up at the Health and Human Services Department. Born in Mexico, the son of farmworkers who worked the fields of Coachella Valley, Ruiz went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School and became an emergency room physician in his own community before being elected to Congress in 2012.
Robert Garcia: Both LGBTQ and Latino, Garcia’s star has risen quickly in California since he became the mayor of Long Beach, California’s third-largest city. He’s also on the shortlist for the Senate seat to replace Harris.
Michael Tubbs: He became mayor of Stockton at 27, and has been viewed as a rising star in the party. He is currently trailing in his reelection bid, with vote counting still ongoing, but political observers say he should have opportunities in Washington if does lose.
Rep. Katie Porter: A member of the House Financial Services Committee, Porter has become a viral sensation with her brutal cross-examinations of financial bigwigs testifying before Congress. But Porter holds an Orange County seat flipped from the GOP in 2018, and party leaders will be loathe to subject that vulnerable seat to a special election.
Linda Darling-Hammond: The Stanford professor, appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to head the California State Board of Education, has been named by Education Week as one of the nation’s top influencers of education policy. She served as education adviser to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and was seen as a possible contender for education secretary in the Obama administration.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez: The Southern California congressman, who now represents the 34th Congressional District once represented by Becerra, is viewed as a possible candidate as U.S. trade representative. The member of the House Democrats Trade Working Group earned praise for his role as a negotiator who secured more robust labor provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Alejandro Mayorkas: A former California U.S. attorney and son of Cuban-Jewish refugees has been widely viewed as one of the country’s top attorneys. He was tapped by Obama to be director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, before being promoted to deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department. As the Obama administration’s highest-ranking Cuban American, Mayorkas in 2015 took the lead on a landmark agreement between the U.S. and Cuba.
Eric Garcetti: The Los Angeles mayor has a strong personal relationship with Biden, was on the VP selection committee, and an early Biden endorser. He’s got potential as transportation secretary under Biden, but recent stories about alleged sexual harassment by his top aide Rick Jacobs — where critics said Garcetti was slow to react — have appeared to have tarnished his chances, for now.
Rep. Jackie Speier: Progressive groups are already talking up the Bay Area Democrat for a variety of roles, noting her expertise on national security issues. Speier has been outspoken against so-called enhanced interrogation practices civil liberties group describe as torture and has called for tougher oversight of the National Security Agency and increased protections for whistleblowers. Speier told POLITICO last week she is “ready to serve,” if called.
Asked about California’s property tax law during a local radio interview in December 2019, Democratic legislative candidate Dawn Addis stopped short of endorsing a total repeal of Proposition 13.
Instead, she said she was open to an idea commonly known as “split roll,” or treating property taxes for commercial businesses differently than those for homeowners.
“I can see that with, on the commercial side repealing, on the business side,” Addis said. “But for property owners, I think that’s key in a context where housing is extremely difficult already. We wouldn’t want to repeal that for personal residential.”
The interview occurred months before a ballot measure to modify California’s tax law by implementing a form of split roll, dubbed Proposition 15, qualified for the Nov. 3 ballot.
But her position came back to haunt her in the November 2020 election.
Proposition 15, which failed Tuesday as votes came in, would have raised taxes on California businesses with more than $3 million in commercial or industrial property. It exempted smaller businesses and residential property. The measure would have raised up to $12.5 billion, which proponents said would put more money into schools and California communities.
Republicans usually run anti-tax campaigns in California, a state notorious for its high cost of living. But Proposition 15 handed vulnerable Republicans extra political ammunition in tight purple-district races.
“Protecting Proposition 13 isn’t a red or blue issue. It’s an issue that’s color blind,” said California Business Properties Association President Rex Hime during a press conference celebrating Proposition 15’s failure. “I think the core belief in Proposition 13, what it protects and what it’s about, is systematically ingrained in California.”
Addis never endorsed Proposition 15, but soundbites from her interview were more than enough for Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham’s campaign to work with.
The incumbent Republican representing Assembly District 35, a Central Coast seat, leveraged the radio spot to claim that Democrats like Addis would raise property taxes for Californians, with Proposition 15 on the ballot as his proof.
“It started down on Main Street, she’s coming for your door. Next thing it will be stress on a family, the tax hike will be on your home,” the song said. “Higher and higher and higher they go. Mom and Pop won’t stand a chance. Higher and higher and higher they go. She’ll take the money right out of the pants.”
“It was our best issue. We used it right from the start,” said Cunningham’s campaign consultant Matt Rexroad. “The entire Cunningham campaign against Addis was around Proposition 15.”
In Santa Barbara County, 46.4% of voters are Democrats, 25.3% are Republican and 22.2% are independent. In San Luis Obispo County, those numbers are 37.4%, 34.9% and 20.8%, respectively.
Cunningham, however, was determined the winner by the Associated Press with 55.1% of the vote.
The strategy repeated itself throughout Southern California, where the No on Proposition 15 campaign was simultaneously urging voters to reject the initiative.
“The key was going to be that we had to drive our margin up in Southern California,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable. “With our messages, we were able to bring across many Democrats.”
In Senate District 21, which runs across Northern Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley, incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Wilk targeted Kipp Mueller on taxes, claiming the Democrat didn’t think residents were “paying their fair share in taxes and wants to end Prop 13.”
The district includes San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties, both of which have a majority Democratic voter base. Proposition 15 passed in Los Angeles with 53.4% of the vote, but San Bernardino voters overwhelmingly disapproved of the initiative. On Wednesday, Wilk maintained a narrow 1.2% lead over Mueller.
Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, a Republican running in Senate District 23 to keep the Inland Empire seat red, nailed Democrat Abigail Medina for allegedly wanting to raise taxes. Medina, a San Bernardino City Unified School District Board, endorsed Proposition 15, according to the initiative’s campaign website.
Riverside County, which SD 23 covers along with San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties, also rejected the measure. Again, Ochoa Bogh, a GOP candidate up against a trending blue constituency, was ahead with 51.9% of the vote.
Republican incumbent for Assembly District 55, Phillip Chen promised he’d “protect Prop 13, keep taxes down and work to make CA more affordable.” Chen painted his challenger, Andrew Rodriguez, as a candidate with a “proven track record of supporting higher taxes.”
Chen trounced Rodriguez by 10% to keep his job representing parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties.
The pattern repeated for Assemblyman Steven Choi in Anaheim, who demonstrates “strong and constant support for Proposition 13,” according to Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Choi, who is running against Democrat Melissa Fox to defend his seat, was up with 53.1% of the vote.
In the same county, former state Sen. Janet Nguyen beat Democrat Diedre Nguyen by 8% after running on a pro-Proposition 13 platform.
“Janet will work to protect Prop 13” and “stop tax increases,” her campaign promised.
Proposition 15 could very well have helped these defensive Republicans secure No Party Preference or swing voters. But Southern California Democratic campaign consultant Derek Humphrey said it’s more likely Republicans “exaggerated what Proposition 15 did” to “scare” some voters into the red column, and that “Democrats still had a really good night in California.”
“Taxes are something that Democrats and Republicans have always squabbled over,” Humphrey said.
Democrats were poised to snag two Southern California seats from Republicans who assured voters they’d defend the districts from assaults against Proposition 13.
University of California, Irvine law professor Dave Min declared victory Nov. 7 over Sen. John Moorlach, a longtime GOP star who attempted to convince voters that California lawmakers “shouldn’t be raising taxes on small businesses.” The Associated Press has not yet called the race, but Min was leading with 51.2% of the ballots tallied so far.
Former Sen. Josh Newman won his seat back from Republican Sen. Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar.
Chang, who represent parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange Counties in the Capitol, railed Newman for voting in favor of a 2018 gas tax that sparked his recall election. Chang said she was Senate District 29’s best chance to defeat more tax increases in California.
Newman, with 51.3% of the vote, survived those claims.
Proposition 15 also didn’t seem to hurt Democratic Assemblywomen Sabrina Cervantes in Riverside or Tasha Boerner Horvath in Oceanside. Cottie Petrie-Norris in Irvine won her seat with 50.5% of the vote.
Bill Wong, political director for the California Assembly Democrats, said any of his caucus’ disappointments were largely attributable to these districts being former GOP strongholds, not Proposition 15.
Instead, Wong ascribes Republican victories to a strong, yet unexpected, GOP turnout, and a voter base increasingly harder to reach through traditional media. He added that these regions were already “highly sensitive to tax increases.”
“’Democrats will raise your taxes.’ They’ll use that anyways,” Wong said. “And we would’ve been vulnerable regardless of whether Proposition 15 was on the ballot or not.”
Launching Kamala Harris into the White House as vice president come January has officially kicked off one of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s biggest political decisions: appointing California’s next U.S. senator.
Many Newsom insiders insist that the governor wants to make a historic choice, making Secretary of State Alex Padilla a leading contender. If picked, Padilla, a longtime Newsom supporter, would become the first Latino senator in the state’s 170-year history.
The governor also has to contend with women’s groups who have also pressured him to fill Harris’ seat with another woman of color, putting Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, high on the list. Bass was on Joe Biden’s vice-presidential shortlist, and said recently that she’s keeping her options open with a new administration coming in.
Rep. Barbara Lee, a progressive icon from Oakland, has been viewed as a likely choice as well, and recently led in a University of Southern California poll on who Newsom should pick.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who would be the first Latino and the first openly gay senator from California, if tapped, is a rising star in the Democratic Party and has recently catapulted up the shortlist, according to people close to Newsom.
State Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego, who is also LGBTQ, would be another historic choice and is viewed as a contender.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown has speculated that Newsom would be more likely to pick a statewide officer for the seat, because that would allow him to name both the next senator and a powerful state officeholder’s replacement as well.
Aside from Padilla, that puts Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is not as close to Newsom, Treasurer Fiona Ma, and State Controller Betty Yee — all candidates of color — in the mix.
Both Yee and Ma, have already indicated their interest in a future run for governor, as has the state’s first female lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis, who also is viewed as having potential with the incoming Biden administration.
Rep. Katie Porter, a freshman who is one of the party’s more robust fundraisers, has strong support among younger voters, as does Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna, who is of South Asian descent and a favorite of progressives who bolstered his profile as the former national co-chair of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
Other names being buzzed about in California include two prominent mayors, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Newsom said this week he wouldn’t formally begin the process of making a a decision until the election was formally called. But he gave some hints about the direction he was leaning, noting that names specified in recent POLITICO rundown was “a good list,” though he joked that maybe “30 or 40 more” might be added to it.
The intense lobbying for his appointment to fill Harris’ Senate seat was “not something I’d wish on my worst enemy,” he quipped on Tuesday.
“You create enemies in this process; you don’t just make great friends — and it’s a vexing decision,” Newsom said. “It’s a challenging one. It’s also a presumptive one … some people are voting for Kamala Harris, so is [the appointee] in her image?”
Other considerations include whether Harris’ replacement would be able to hold the seat at the end of her current term, which expires in two years — or if he should pick a “placeholder” that would allow an even playing field given how someone may hold the seat for decades.
Newsom said he is being lobbied day and night by Democrats, and joked they’re getting creative in attempting to get his attention.
“You know there’s phone calls, there’s emails,” he said. “People just happen to show up certain places. They want to babysit your kids, they offer to get groceries, get coffee.”
Since President George W. Bush fueled a minivan with hydrogen 15 years ago, the promise of cars and trucks powered by the fuel has come up mostly empty.
That hydrogen pump, in Washington, closed long ago. But in California, the beginnings of a hydrogen economy may finally be dawning after many fits and starts.
Dozens of hydrogen buses are lumbering down city streets, while more and larger fueling stations are appearing from San Diego to San Francisco, financed by the state and federal governments. With the costs of producing and shipping hydrogen coming down, California is setting ambitious goals to phase out vehicles that run on fossil fuels in favor of batteries and hydrogen. Large auto and energy companies like Toyota Motor and Royal Dutch Shell have committed to supplying more cars and fueling stations.
“In past cycles, there was always something missing,” said Matthew Blieske, Shell’s global hydrogen product manager. “There was a policy missing, or the technology wasn’t quite ready, or people were not so serious about decarbonization. We don’t see those barriers anymore.”
Some energy executives said they expected investment in hydrogen to accelerate under President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who made climate change a big part of his campaign and proposed a $2 trillion plan to tackle the problem.
A recent McKinsey & Company study estimated that the hydrogen economy could generate $140 billion in annual revenue by 2030 and support 700,000 jobs. The study projected that hydrogen could meet 14 percent of total American energy demand by 2050.
The use of hydrogen, the lightest and most abundant substance in the universe, is still in its infancy, and California is determined to be its cradle in the United States, with $20 million in annual funding from the California Energy Commission through vehicle license fees. California will have spent about $230 million on hydrogen projects by the end of 2023. The state now has roughly 40 fueling stations, with dozens more under construction. While those numbers are tiny compared with the 10,000 gasoline stations across the state, officials have high hopes.
With about 7,500 hydrogen vehicles on the road, an aggressive state program of incentives and subsidies from cap-and-trade dollars envisions 50,000 hydrogen light-duty vehicles by middecade and a network of 1,000 hydrogen stations by 2030. The infrastructure required for producing, transporting and dispensing the gas alone will cost about $10 billion, according to California hydrogen researchers, who expect both private and government investment.
Other states are much further behind. A vast majority of the country’s hydrogen fueling stations and vehicles are in California.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles are similar to electric cars. But unlike electric cars, which have large batteries, these cars have hydrogen tanks and fuel cells that turn the gas into electricity. The cars refuel and accelerate quickly, and they can go for several hundred miles on a full tank. They emit only water vapor, which makes them appealing to California cities that are trying to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“Almost any objective analysis for getting to zero emissions includes hydrogen,” said Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine.
Mr. Brouwer does not think hydrogen will become the dominant energy source soon, but he argues that it has great potential as a fuel for vehicles, power plants and appliances. Hydrogen, he said, will complement the use of lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, wind turbines and natural gas.
U.C. Irvine has experimented with hydrogen for years and formed partnerships with local governments and major corporations to popularize its use in Southern California.
Just over a decade ago, Tim Brown worked on gasoline systems at General Motors. He went back to school in 2004, studied hydrogen with Mr. Brouwer and “became a believer.”
Five years after earning his doctorate in 2008, he founded First Element Fuel, which operates 21 hydrogen fueling stations, including a four-pump unit at an Arco gas station in Fountain Valley, about a 10-minute drive from U.C. Irvine. The company plans to build up to 80 stations across the state, under the brand name True Zero.
One recent afternoon, Karen Harelson pulled up to the Arco station in her Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen-powered sedan that she bought two years ago. “I personally don’t think they should make another car without it,” said Ms. Harelson, 66, a retired professor at Golden West College. “It’s the best car I’ve ever had. The problem is, there’s just not enough stations around.”
That’s a common complaint. Because of the paucity of hydrogen pumps, car owners often wait in line. But unlike battery-powered electric cars, which can require 45 minutes to several hours to fully charge, hydrogen cars, like gasoline ones, fill up in less than 10 minutes and are good for 300 miles or more on a full tank.
Some proponents of hydrogen think its biggest use will be in larger vehicles. Among them is SunLine Transit, which serves Palm Springs and other cities in Riverside County.
The transit system has 17 hydrogen buses and is planning to add 10 in the next year. SunLine used more than $27 million in grants over the last 10 years to buy the vehicles and equipment to produce hydrogen, which it makes with the help of electricity from the grid and solar panels. The transit agency already sells compressed natural gas, which fuels most of its buses, to commercial and government agencies, and it plans to sell hydrogen, too.
Lauren Skiver, the chief executive and general manager of SunLine, said that she had invited other transit agencies and utilities to see just how far hydrogen had come but that she had often met with disbelief and ambivalence.
“We try to meet with them all the time: ‘Look what we’re doing on hydrogen,’” Ms. Skiver said. “They’re not interested at all.”
There is good reason for skepticism.
While there have been many technical advances, hydrogen is still expensive to make and transport. Fuel-cell vehicles also cost more than comparable electric cars. A Toyota Mirai sells for nearly $60,000 before subsidies. A Tesla Model 3 starts at about $38,000 before subsidies. Then there is the chicken-or-egg issue of trying to get people to buy hydrogen vehicles before there is a comprehensive fueling infrastructure.
Critics, including Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, point out that hydrogen’s promoters have long failed to deliver on their promises.
In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush said that “the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution free.” Those hopes were propelled mainly by the rising cost of oil and natural gas at the time. After a boom in hydraulic fracturing helped drive down energy prices, hydrogen took a back seat.
Still, hydrogen’s potential continues to entice governments, researchers and corporations. Countries like France, Germany, China, Australia, South Korea and Japan have invested tens of billions of dollars in hydrogen, in part to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and to address climate change.
Toyota, Hyundai, Daimler and several other automakers are betting on hydrogen cars and trucks. And Shell is building hydrogen stations in Europe and California.
The best use for hydrogen, some experts argue, is to power trucks, buses and airplanes. That’s because the fuel packs energy in a smaller and lighter package than the current generation of batteries, leaving more room for cargo and passengers. Hyundai is prepared to introduce the first mass-produced heavy-duty fuel-cell truck in a few months. Toyota, which has been testing fuel-cell trucks at the Port of Los Angeles since 2017, recently said it would develop heavy-duty fuel-cell trucks for North America.
Hydrogen poses a long-term threat to oil companies because it could compete with diesel and jet fuel. That is also why many large European oil and gas companies, like Shell and BP, have sought to make hydrogen part of a transition to a lower-carbon future.
Most hydrogen today is extracted from natural gas in a process that requires a lot of energy and emits carbon dioxide. But combined with carbon capture and sequestration, the process can be environmentally viable.
Over time, government officials and researchers expect most hydrogen to be made without emissions. The cleanest hydrogen production comes from using renewable electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The equipment to do that is expensive, but costs have been falling in recent years, especially as wind and solar energy become the cheapest ways to generate electricity.
European oil companies are also investing in renewables so they could, eventually, pair hydrogen production with solar and wind farms.
“The oil companies are very well positioned to play in this,” said Joan Ogden, an energy researcher at the University of California, Davis. “They know how to make molecules at large scale better than anybody, they already use a lot of hydrogen in oil refining, and they are used to supplying transportation fuels.”
Businesses are exploring other approaches, too.
Air Liquide, a French company, is building a $150 million plant outside Las Vegas that will turn biogas from decomposed organic waste into hydrogen, which it plans to sell in California. The plant will begin operations late next year. Air Liquide is building another plant on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to supply the Northeast.
“We see hydrogen as an energy vector of the future,” said Michael Graff, chairman and chief executive of American Air Liquide Holdings.
The hydrogen business may be in its infancy, but interest in it is robust and growing, said Michael Webber, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin and chief science and technology officer at Engie, a French energy company.
“The customers for hydrogen are there,” Mr. Webber said. “They’re just waiting for the hydrogen to show up.”