Somini: Brad, you went to Taft, California, an oil town in a state that’s trying to shut down drilling. What surprised you the most?
Brad: In oil towns like Taft, it is truly striking how deeply intertwined daily life is with local fossil fuel industries. It’s not just about all the jobs in the oil and gas sector. Millions of dollars in property tax revenues fund parks and hospitals. These are corporate donations that fund baseball fields and high school programs. It is the employees of the oil and gas industry who mentor students and volunteer at community events. If we think about what a clean energy transition will look like, none of this will be easy to replace.
Somini: There have been company towns for a long time. Pittsburgh lived on steel. No more. It is now a thriving city supported by several industries and a few top-notch universities.
Brad: Kern County, where Taft is located, is exploring a bunch of ideas, like aerospace and manufacturing and even new energy technologies like carbon capture. But the transition will take years. And they face major economic shocks in the meantime.
Somini: Maggie, you found some really interesting counterexamples where people rallied around local climate action. Tell us about Morris, Minn.
maggie: What happened in Morris was a really interesting collaboration involving a number of parties, as opposed to policies adopted by the city government alone. The local college campus, University of Minnesota Morris, and researchers affiliated with the university have done creative renewable energy projects, like mounting solar panels on poles high enough for cows to graze underneath and the manufacture of fertilizer using wind energy instead of oil.
Some of the projects on campus served as a proof of concept for city officials and made them more comfortable adopting the same strategies, so now Morris has solar panels on various city buildings. This makes home solar panels more attractive to residents.
It’s a politically divided community, with lots of conservative farmers as well as lots of liberal students, but they’re largely united on a plan to produce renewable energy locally, drastically reduce energy use and eliminate waste. landfills.
Somini: This kind of political unity has been elusive in Washington. What type of local climate policy is the most realistic in the United States? Is there a common thread?
maggie: It really varies a lot from place to place. The policies that will have the greatest impact in a farming town like Morris — making fertilizer with fewer emissions, for example — are not the same policies that will be effective in a big city like Phoenix, which needs to focus more on the transportation. Likewise, sweeping government-mandated changes that are politically feasible in a state like Colorado, with a united Democratic government, are not politically feasible everywhere. And the level of public investment that’s possible in a wealthy place like Fairfax County, Virginia, isn’t necessarily possible in a small town in Ohio. What local officials told me is that local policies need to be tailored to communities.
In some ways, it’s an opportunity. You can achieve emission reductions in individual cities that would not be possible if you tried them through a single policy. But it is also a serious limitation. Cities and states can help significantly, but they cannot solve the climate crisis alone without federal action. It is not possible. They don’t have the money or the regulatory authority.
Somini: What about at the state level? In New Mexico, for example, the governor has provided cash to coal communities affected by plant closures. Did it work?
Brad: Unfortunately, there aren’t yet a ton of examples of coal-dependent communities that have successfully reinvented themselves. There’s Tonawanda, NY. But it’s a coal-dependent city in a wealthy state that doesn’t rely that much on fossil fuels for its economy. The picture will look very different in places like Wyoming, Montana, or North Dakota.
Somini: Here’s what I find baffling: In a state as wealthy as California, couldn’t a handful of tech titans fund schools and parks in cities that want to get away from oil and gas?
Brad: The numbers are quite large. In 2020, Kern County earned $197 million in property taxes from oil and gas, about a quarter of the county’s property tax revenue. This does not take into account income taxes and sales taxes on economic activity associated with fossil fuels. And it’s only a year. So it’s a very big hole to fill. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, talks about a bill to help local communities across the country affected by fossil fuel facility shutdowns that would initially come with a $20 billion investment — and even that might not be enough.
You can read Brad’s article this week on Taft. And here is Maggie’s recent article on national and local climate efforts.
The essentials of The Times news
Before you go: Protesters try to get their message across
Activists in Britain stick their hands to the frames of important paintings. A group of protesters, who want authorities to stop allowing new fossil fuel projects, recently stuck to Van Gogh masterpieces and a 16th-century copy of Leonardo’s ‘The Last Supper’ da Vinci. They say it doesn’t matter if their actions are popular, only if they are noticed.
Thanks for reading. We will be back on Tuesday.
Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.
Contact us at [email protected] We read every message and respond to a lot!