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After climate summit, California Gov. Gavin Newsom faces key decisions to reduce emissions back home

California Gov. Gavin Newsom stands outdoors at a podium on a foggy day at the Presidio Tunnel Tops.
Jeff Chiu
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at the Presidio Tunnel Tops before the signing of a new climate agreement in San Francisco on Oct. 6, 2022. California, a state known for its ambitious climate policies, could soon adopt new laws reducing emissions from buildings, easing the burden on taxpayers to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells, and requiring the most sweeping emissions reporting mandates for large companies in the nation. They are among the hundreds of bills lawmakers sent to Newsom's desk this year.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom made big waves in the climate world recently by announcing a lawsuit alleging major oil and gas companies deceived the public about the risks fossil fuels posed for global warming and saying he would sign the nation's most sweeping emissions reporting rules for large companies.

Newsom must now decide whether to go even further. Lawmakers have sent him bills aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, help schools adapt to the changing climate and ease the cost to taxpayers for the cleanup of orphan oil and gas wells.

After the Legislature wrapped up for the year earlier this month, Newsom touted California's leadership on environmental issues at a United Nations climate summit in New York. In California, he said, climate change has led to “places, lifestyles and traditions being destroyed right in front of our eyes, despite all of that leadership.”

“If you read the newspaper or turn on your TV ... you see a state, not just of dreamers and doers, but you see a state that's burning up," Newsom said.

Newsom said he would sign a bill requiring companies making more than $1 billion in annual revenue to disclose a wide range of greenhouse gas emissions. He also said he would sign legislation requiring companies making more than $500 million annually to disclose how climate change can affect their businesses financially and how they plan to adapt.

There were some major climate proposals that did not pass the Legislature this year, including rules to expand what pollutants have to be monitored near refineries and legislation to divest the state's public employee and teacher retirement system funds from the fossil fuel industry.

Newsom has until Oct. 14 to decide whether to sign bills into law, veto or allow them to become law without his signature. Here are some of the climate proposals that California lawmakers did, or did not, pass this year:

Orphaned oil and gas wells

The Legislature passed a bill requiring companies receiving the right to operate a well to demonstrate the financial ability to clean them up. One way they could do this under the bill would be posting a bond to pay for the full cost of well cleaning.

In California, there are more than 5,000 wells without an active owner able to properly seal and close them, the state estimates. These are known as orphan wells.

With no active owner, the state has the responsibility to clean up the wells. That is a problem because taxpayers should not be on the hook for oil and gas companies not properly closing wells, said Ann Alexander, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Improperly closed wells can become a public health risk through pollution capable of contaminating drinking water, according to the California Department of Conservation.

The state already requires companies to post bonds to pay for well cleanup, but the amount often falls short, Alexander said.

The Western States Petroleum Association says the bill could “exacerbate” the state's orphan well problem by adding another financial barrier for companies that might otherwise acquire a well.

California is among the top 10 crude oil-producing states. But production has decreased from about 230,000 barrels annually in 2005 to fewer than 125,000 barrels in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Building emissions

Lawmakers sent a bill to Newsom’s desk requiring state regulators to find an approach to reduce planet-warming emissions from buildings.

The sector makes up about a quarter of California's greenhouse gas emissions, the state estimates. Those emissions stem from sources including electricity used to power buildings and refrigerants used for cooling.

The state plans to cut these emissions from homes, stores and other buildings as part of its broader 2030 target of reducing California's greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below the 1990 level.

Under the bill, the California Energy Commission would have to submit a report to the Legislature in 2026 recommending the state's next steps for lowering building emissions.

Opponents say the bill could lead to burdensome energy efficiency requirements for housing providers.

Climate bills the legislature didn't pass this year

A proposal to expand a program requiring certain pollutants to be monitored near refineries was made a two-year bill, enabling lawmakers to revisit it in January. The bill would change the program to include biofuel refineries, which use materials derived from plants or other living things.

A key Assembly committee earlier this month blocked a bill requiring schools to come up with a heat reduction plan in outside areas on campus, for example by replacing asphalt with less heat-absorbing surfaces.

Advocates say the legislation would have helped increase shaded areas at schools in low-income areas where they aren't already abundant. Another bill requiring the California Energy Commission to create a plan to help schools adapt to climate change effects reached Newsom's desk this year.

State Sen. Lena A. Gonzalez, a Democrat representing part of Los Angeles County, introduced a bill to divest the state's public employee and teacher retirement systems from the fossil fuel industry. The bill passed the Senate, but didn't get a hearing in the Assembly. Lawmakers can take it up again in January.


Sophie Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: @sophieadanna