California’s legislature passed, as usual, hundreds of laws that took effect on January 1st, but two of them are prime examples of how the Golden State has turned its governance over to an alliance of public sector unions, environmentalist extremists, and wealthy elites. Nowhere within this privileged clique is there any recognition of how difficult they are making everyday life for ordinary people.
Do you want to remodel your kitchen? Starting in 2014, you will have to install energy efficient “luminaires” (that’s bureaucrat-speak for “light”) that will not pass inspection unless they’re in hardwired sockets. Normal “screw base luminaires” do not qualify as “high efficiency.” Courtesy of the California Energy Commission, here is “Chapter Six – Residential Lighting.” If you want to know how to install lighting in your new or remodeled kitchen, you’ll need to wade through 58 pages of specifications.
It gets worse.
Do you want to do anything to your home that involves getting a building permit? Remember that in most California counties, by law, you are required to have a building permit to install any major appliance including a water heater, a cooktop, an oven, etc., also any permanent light fixtures, or a deck, a spa, a driveway gate; to put it mildly, the list is inclusive. “Building permit” has taken on a rather expansive scope, and if you don’t get one, you are a criminal. And starting in 2014, if you submit a building permit application to install a gas cook top, or a window, or a water heater, you will also have to install “low flow” toilets, faucets and shower heads throughout your entire home. Stealthily passed back in 2009, SB 407 is finally here. And don’t expect to easily replace that “water efficient shower head” after the inspector leaves, because as noted on this KCRA report, the flow restriction valves must be installed inside your walls.
Laws this draconian might be justifiable if energy pollution and water scarcity were genuine problems that couldn’t be addressed in a more balanced manner. But California is floating on top of recoverable shale gas. There’s more energy here than in the famed Bakken formation that has ignited the economy in the Dakotas and is powering America. In a stunning turnaround, new recovery technologies mean that the North American continent has the potential to be completely energy self-sufficient. Even the originally established “greenhouse gas” targets have already been easily achieved, as Americans have switched from coal to natural gas.
As for water, it’s tough to argue with conservation measures when the state faces another severe drought. But as this table from the California Water Commission’s draft “2013 Water Plan, Chapter 3” proves, residential water use has remained flat for the past ten years, even as population has increased from 34 million to 38 million during the decade ended 2010.
More revealing, however, is the fact that urban water consumption – reference the “Depleted Water Use” table on the lower half of the chart below, which refers to water consumed that is not recycled – only represents 8.9% of water diversions in California. And courtesy of this Sierra Club chart “California water by the numbers,” only 62% of “urban” water use is residential (indoor and outdoor); the rest is commercial and industrial. And “indoor” water use is only 37% of “urban” water use. So these “low flow” mandates are going to marginally lower consumption of what is only 3.2% of water diversions in California. And just to complete the thought: Actual precipitation in a normal year in California is roughly 200 million acre feet – the “applied water use” referenced on this chart is only about 40% of California’s total precipitation – the rest evaporates, percolates, or flows into the ocean without diversion.
Put another way, in California, cutting indoor residential water use by 50% is the equivalent of rainfall in a given year decreasing by 1%. That’s how much good it’s going to do.
Instead of marginally reducing total energy and water consumption through expensive and inconvenient mandates, what California’s policymakers ought to be doing is enacting policies designed to lower the cost of living. They could do this by permitting slant drilling to offshore reserves of oil and natural gas, extraction of onshore shale gas, construction of a LNG terminal to export natural gas, construction of natural gas and nuclear power plants, and construction of massive desalination facilities on the Southern California coast. The energy required to desalinate seawater is actually less than the energy required to pump the same quantity of water over the Tehachapi mountains and into the Los Angeles basin. These are worthy topics for further study, because they would benefit ordinary Californians.
California’s elites, however, do not care about ordinary people. They hide behind extreme environmentalist scare scenarios – hatched by organizations whose directorships are opportunistically populated by trial lawyers and crony “green” capitalists. And, of course, thousands of public sector union jobs are created, as code enforcement officers fan out into the urban hinterland to enter our homes, peering behind our walls and into our ceilings, checking our pipes and wires, ferreting out the errant rebels.
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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Public Policy Center