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Environment Report: The Vision for a San Diego Green New Deal

The San Diego region could team up to buy and sell electricity, SDG&E is overhauling is rate structure and more in our biweekly roundup of environmental news.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, left and Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign / Photo by Tristan Loper

Local environmental activists, hoping to catch a wave of national attention on a so-called Green New Deal in Congress, are starting to rally for a San Diego version of the plan.

The nonprofit Climate Action Campaign rolled out the idea of a “San Diego Green New Deal” last week alongside an annual report that rated the various plans to fight climate change already adopted by local governments.

Like the national green deal, the local plan is a liberal wish list of changes to the economy gathered around the idea that fossil fuel energy and the climate change it causes are at the heart of malfunctioning American political and economic systems.

Some of the campaign’s goals, which were summarized in the report, are not immediately related to climate change, like “stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression” and providing union jobs.

But the group also calls for a regional approach to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Right now, the city of San Diego has its own goal of reducing these emissions by half, but other local governments, particularly San Diego County, don’t have a plan to fight to climate change.

Nicole Capretz, the head of Climate Action Campaign, said cities can no longer act in isolation, so it’s time for a regional approach. She thought using the national language of a new deal could help frame that push.

Across the country, a Green New Deal has galvanized supporters who are thirsty for more urgent responses to climate change. It’s also been criticized for being too vague and also too in-your-face with some of its talk of transforming the economic structure of American society by, say, guaranteeing people jobs.

But it’s also become a major litmus test for Democrats, seeming to split the party between progressive activists like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, and more incremental lawmakers. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently seemed to dismiss young supporters of the deal – at her peril.

Capretz said her vision of a new deal could result in support for a tax of some kind, perhaps one centered on transit or housing. One of the biggest ways to decrease emissions is getting people to either stop driving cars or making those cars run on green energy.

She’s among the local progressives enthusiastic about a transit-friendly series of comments by Hasan Ikhrata, the new head of the region’s planning agency, the San Diego Association of Governments.

Climate Action Campaign was among the environmental groups that opposed a failed 2016 SANDAG bond measure to raise money for local infrastructure, highways and open space preservation because they believed it did too little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Later, it also became clear SANDAG had kept information from the public about what it actually could afford.

The Green New Deal can seem a bit nebulous because it’s so broad. That said, the original New Deal in the 1930s was not one thing either. It involved a sweeping transformation of the American economy by providing government-backed jobs for people hurt by the Great Depression and by building lasting infrastructure improvements, like subsidies that helped electrify rural areas that had once lived in the dark.

San Diego’s Energy Agency Looking Likely to Be a Regional Effort

It’s increasingly clear that the San Diego’s plan to form its own agency to buy and sell electricity will be a regional one, much like the San Diego County Water Authority, which is a collection of local water agencies that pay to import water from hundreds of miles away.

Officials from the city have been meeting with their counterparts across the region to figure out how they can together create what amounts to a buyer’s club for green energy.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob is this week bringing the idea back to the county’s Board of Supervisors, which previously declined even to study the idea.

The terms under which these cities join together is something to keep an eye on, since the city is more liberal than the county and some of its suburbs may be less likely to want to mandate that new energy projects go to union workers.

In Other News

Disclosure: Mitch Mitchell, SDG&E’s vice president for government affairs, sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the Climate Action Campaign supported SANDAG’s failed 2016 ballot measure. The group opposed the measure.

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