Will the Next President Try to Out-green California? 

A solar White House

Wednesday, Feb 13 2008

DIVIDED OVER WAR, THE ECONOMY and other trenchant issues, the top three presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama, have all been giving lip service to going green, and that could presage a major swing in Washington next year, toward a crackdown on tailpipe emissions and maybe even toward dismantling stubborn barriers to solar and other alternative energy.

Rena Kosnett

Very large array: One of the biggest private solar installations in L.A. just got off the ground.

All three candidates — two Democrats, one Republican — are lining up behind California in challenging federal law in an effort to crack down on cars spewing carbon dioxide. All three have also touted a new push for solar, with Republican McCain — hailing from an even more sun-drenched state than California — recently hitting a tour of a Southern California solar-panel factory.

Although global warming and the environment have been dramatically overshadowed by voters' economic worries, the three leaders are plainly trying to top one another, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama first signing on as co-sponsors of Senator Barbara Boxer's bill that would give California a clear right to override federal law and impose tight new state-based limits on the notorious greenhouse gas. And McCain (as well as the other leading Republican contenders), questioned before the Super Tuesday primary, promptly took California's side in its legal fight against the Bush administration and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has authority over carbon dioxide standards — and which has told California to back off.

click to enlarge RENA KOSNETT - Very large array: One of the biggest private solar installations in L.A. just got off the ground.
  • Rena Kosnett
  • Very large array: One of the biggest private solar installations in L.A. just got off the ground.

Related Stories

  • How to Vote 8

    You know the incumbents. So our June 3 voter guide is about the other stuff - like a comedic race for judge featuring candidates so bad the bar association finds both "Not Qualified." One is Charles Calderon, who L.A. Weekly previously reported as one of the worst legislators in California. There's...
  • California's Foie Gras Ban Possibly Headed to Supreme Court 3

    It's been two years since California banned the sale and production of foie gras, and it seemed to be a done deal. But a group of attorneys, as well as 13 other states outside of California, are hoping to raise the issue again. In fact, they're hoping to take it...
  • Whole Foods Fined for Overcharging California Customers 5

    Just last week we went into Whole Foods for quinoa and came out with one $150 grocery bag of God-knows-what (we think Parmesan crisps, an organic T-shirt and beer made by Franciscan friars was in there). We are used to, but puzzled by, this phenomenon. So we were more than a little...
  • Porn vs. Sacramento

    A proposal that would make porn stars use condoms on-set passed a key hurdle in the California legislature yesterday. A similar bill died in a committee last year, but this time around there seems to be more support for the legislation by Assemblyman Isadore Hall of L.A. His AB 1576 passed...
  • A New Pot Law 2

    A proposed law to provide statewide regulations for marijuana dispensaries was once firmly opposed by the cannabis community.  It sought to outlaw concentrates like wax, and it would have limited what kind of doctors could recommend weed as well as what form of pot they could prescribe. No longer. The...

The bipartisan solidarity — whether election-season spin or not — is seen as a slap upside the head of lame-duck Bush and a sign that, regardless of who wins the presidency, California eventually could prevail in its legal fight against Washington to slash smog emissions from cars, SUVs and pickup trucks.

Such a breakthrough would represent a rare, clear-cut leap forward for California's painfully slow green movement, bogged down by economic barriers to technologies like solar power, federal resistance to upstart state laws like the emissions crackdown, and highly localized red tape that has "green" cities like Los Angeles and Santa Monica barely muddling along on alternative energy and other promising trends.

In a state that claims to lead the push for clean air and renewable resources (a largely unprovable claim made by many states), the California green movement is still a story of roadblocks, mislaid intentions and mucked-up plans.

"The clock is ticking, that's what is so frustrating about all this," says former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, who introduced California's tailpipe-emissions law — the one California and the EPA are warring over — back in 2001. Despite the fact that Sacramento's 120-person Legislature is controlled by a sizable majority of liberal Democrats who claim to embrace Pavley's views, they carried water for the auto industry for years by opposing Pavley — mirroring self-described green Democrats in Washington who strenuously resisted tougher gas-mileage standards for Detroit.

It took Pavley three years to persuade her fellow legislators to adopt the regulations eventually signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, then three more years elapsed before the EPA in December responded as expected: "No way — this is federal turf." So the state filed suit against the feds, arguing that it does have jurisdiction over tailpipe emissions — a complex legal battle, now in federal court.

"Here we go, another year's delay," Pavley says. The polite, soft-spoken suburbanite legislator from Agoura Hills — who has a rare reputation in Sacramento for avoiding partisan histrionics — says the green effort is just not moving "as fast as we would like."

Even ideas that aren't controversial, like installing solar panels, are often balled up in bureaucratic red tape and steep initial costs that tax breaks and other incentives simply don't cover.

One new solar array in Los Angeles, unveiled to considerable fanfare two months ago, sits atop the roof of a warehouse in almost-always sunny Van Nuys. At about half the size of a football field, the $750,000 configuration of metallic blue panels is one of the largest private commitments to solar power in L.A. — which says something about what people are really willing to put their money into, in a city jammed with $2 million homes and $200,000 landscaping jobs. Owner Ady Gil, 49, says he decided to plunk down the $750,000 because "too many people talk and do nothing" about renewable energy. When conditions are perfect — when the hot Valley sun is glaring down — the array should generate enough wattage to power 30 homes.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • 21st Annual Classic Cars "Cruise Night" in Glendale
    On Saturday, spectators of all ages were out in multitudes on a beautiful summer night in Glendale to celebrate the 21st annual Cruise Night. Brand Boulevard, one of the main streets through downtown Glendale, was closed to traffic and lined with over 250 classic, pre-1979 cars. There was plenty of food to be had and many of the businesses on Brand stayed open late for the festivities The evening ended with fireworks and a 50th anniversary concert from The Kingsmen, who performed their ultimate party hit, "Louie, Louie." All photos by Jared Cowan.
  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.