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Newsom promises climate cooperation with China while California's own green energy policies stumble

Democratic Party rising star Gavin Newsom's California is struggling to achieve its green energy goals under the governor while he promises climate cooperation with China. Although he insists he isn't running for president, his globetrotting suggests otherwise.

Published: November 16, 2023 11:00pm

California Governor Gavin Newsom has publicly insisted that he will not run for the Democratic nomination despite speculation swirling around his high-profile moves, including an official visit to China and a planned debate against Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida.

That did not stop criticism from fellow Democrat Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman who said earlier this month that Newsom was running a covert presidential campaign. According to NBC, Fetterman said "There are two additional Democrats running for Pennsylvania, excuse me, running for president right now, one is a congressman from Minnesota, the other one is the governor of California, but only one has the guts to announce it."

But even as Biden is set to run for reelection in 2024, Newsom is widely recognized as a rising star in the Democratic Party. Recently, Newsom has come under scrutiny for an unusual trip to China trip that highlighted climate cooperation while his "green energy" policies traverse a rocky road at home.

Late last month, Newsom traveled to the People’s Republic of China, becoming the first American governor to visit the country in more than four years as tensions between China and the United States remain elevated after the COVID-19 pandemic and a strengthening economic and military rivalry.

Newsom’s office associated the trip with the Biden administration’s wider efforts in the U.S.-China relationship. The press release highlighted that the China trip came after a string of high-level Biden administration officials traveled to the country in an effort to stabilize relations after rising tensions.

“Governor Gavin Newsom’s visit to China has helped thaw relations and builds on the Biden Administration’s efforts to continue an open dialogue with China, which serves as an important competitor and partner to the U.S.,” the press release reads.

One claimed goal of Newsom’s visit was to enhance climate cooperation with China. “Because of California’s history with China on climate cooperation, and our world-leading climate efforts, our state can serve as a bridge on one of the most consequential issues of our time,” the press release said. In fact, during Newsom’s visit, California signed a joint declaration with China reiterating the commitment of both to achieve carbon neutrality by their respective deadlines and reinforcing a “long-term partnership” between the state and the country.

The most important photo-op from Newsom’s trip was during his one-on-one meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two reportedly discussed climate cooperation and the fentanyl crisis. Newsom also urged President Xi to come to the United States for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum set to begin in San Francisco today. China later announced that President Xi would be traveling to the California for the summit and take a meeting with President Biden.

Newsom appeared to be at the height of a good public image following the China trip, notwithstanding criticism against him for failing to bring up China’s human rights abuses in his meeting with Xi and for beginning his trip in Hong Kong where the Chinese government suppressed pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020.

Newsom has found himself in hot water since he returned from his China trip and his cleanup of the state leading up to the APEC summit has fueled criticisms from at least one home state Republican. “Governor Newsom’s effort to cozy up to the Chinese Communist Party is delusional,” Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., told Politico. The Governor should instead “be concerned about the CCP’s control of the critical mineral supply chains as he prepares to ban gasoline-powered cars by 2035.”

In preparation for the APEC summit in San Francisco, and the arrival of high-level dignitaries like Xi Jinping, the city undertook a significant effort to clean up its streets, bolster police presence, and put homeless individuals in shelters so that they are off the streets. Immediately, California government received pushback for the speed at which the cleanup occurred after many the state’s cities, including San Francisco, have been plagued by these issues for years.

When asked about the at a press conference, Newsom did not push back on the criticism but embraced its basis. “I know folks say, ‘Oh, they’re just cleaning up this place because all these fancy leaders are coming into town.’ That’s true because it's true,” Newsom said, as San Francisco Mayor London Breed stood next to him.

Newsom at first denied that efforts to clean up his state began to prepare for the arrival of “fancy” leaders, but eventually admitted it was true. “But it's also true, for months and months and months prior to APEC, we've been having different conversations. And we've raised the bar of expectation between the city, the county and the state, and our federal partners as well that we all have to do more and do better,” Newsom said. He promised that these efforts would continue, even after the summit.

He later told reporters that "obviously, any time you put on an event, by definition ... you know, you have people over to your house, you're going to clean up the house."

Newsom’s encouragement of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with China comes as U.S. public opinion has swung against the country in recent years. Since about 2017, public opinion on China became increasingly negative as Americans viewed the bilateral economic relationship as biased towards China, increasingly viewed China as a threat, and read reports of the country’s human rights abuses.

Newsom touted California’s “world leading climate efforts” in his meetings with Chinese officials, part of these efforts being the state of California’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. Yet, California, long the forefront of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change, has seen its climate plans failing due to poor systems’ reliability, global conditions and questionable planning.

For example, Just the News previously reported that California’s expansion of solar and wind farms is exceeding the ability of the state’s grid to handle production during both high production and low demand. The data, reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicated that the times when solar and wind farms are deliberately shut off reached their peak in 2023. The culprit: not enough power lines to carry the electricity produced by green energy sources. This could have been planned for but does not appear to have been raised at the time of the state's "green energy" expansion.

California has recently experienced blackouts and brownouts during periods of high stress on the electric grid when temperatures are high. Last year, California officials encouraged residents to adjust their air conditioning usage during the hottest parts of the day to limit demand on the grid. Reliability issues with green energy sources, like solar, contribute to the difficulty in meeting electricity demand.

During a heat wave last year when California’s electric grid was overstressed, Governor Newsom blamed climate change, not his state’s energy policies.

“This is just the latest reminder of how real the climate crisis is, and how it is impacting the everyday lives of Californians,” Newsom said in a press release. “While we are taking steps to get us through the immediate crisis, this reinforces the need for urgent action to end our dependence on fossil fuels that are destroying our climate and making these heat waves hotter and more common.”

In the wake of summer blackouts last year, California lawmakers reversed course on a decision to close the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant. The plant was scheduled to close in 2025 and provides 10% of the state’s power, according to Politico.

Additionally, the state reserved funds to purchase power from remaining fossil fuel plants in the state, though those facilities are also scheduled to be shut down. Lawmakers made this adjustment to the state budget last year after the experience of summer blackouts and the stress on the grid. These efforts to secure reliable energy at the expense of the promised energy transition, has garnered criticism from California’s environmental groups and even some Democrats.

In the midst of blackouts and stress on the grid, California’s 2022 carbon-dioxide emissions actually increased, setting the state back in its goal of meeting carbon neutrality by the next decade.

Governor Newsom’s office did not immediately return a request for comment from Just the News.

President Biden today praised Newsom during his speech at the APEC summit in San Francisco, even hinting that the California governor could one day be president of the United States.

"I want to talk about Gov. Newsom. Want to thank him. He’s been one hell of a governor, man," Biden said, according to The Hill. "Matter of fact, he could be anything he wants. He could have the job I’m looking for."

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