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Wildfire rages near Yosemite as Newsom steps up climate action

A burgeoning blaze near Yosemite National Park forced the evacuation of thousands of residents over the weekend, prompting California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to declare a state of emergency just a day after announcing a set of ambitious new climate goals.

Newsom issued a state of emergency for Mariposa County on Saturday due to the impacts of the Oak Fire, which his office said had destroyed homes, threatened critical infrastructure and led to the evacuation of 3,000 residents.

At the time of the declaration, the blaze had burned more than 11,500 acres — a figure that grew to 16,791 acres by Monday morning, according to Cal Fire. The fire was 10 percent contained on Monday.

The fire erupted Friday, with officials on Saturday describing “explosive fire behavior,” according to The Associated Press.

Experts have said that climate change is intensifying droughts in areas like the southwest U.S. and making wildfires worse.

“What I can tell you is this is a direct result of what is climate change,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie said of the Oak Fire, according to CNN. “You can’t have a 10-year drought in California and expect things to be the same. And we are now paying the price for that 10-year drought and that climate change.”

Newsom’s emergency declaration came less than a day after he launched new statewide climate targets for renewable energy, clean buildings, carbon removal and clean fuels.

“California communities experience the devastating impacts of climate change every day,” he said in a statement. “We need to supercharge our efforts to significantly reduce harmful carbon pollution.”

As part of the new targets, the governor called for the state to ensure that its 2022 Climate Change Scoping Plan provides the tools necessary to achieve California’s 2030 climate goals as well as state carbon neutrality no later than 2045, in a letter sent to the chair of the California Air Resources Board.

In his state budget proposal in January, Newsom allocated $22.5 billion for combatting the climate crisis over the next five years. In May, he revised the figure to add another $9.5 billion.

On Friday evening, however, the governor announced that he would be accelerating the state’s clean energy targets while working with the legislature “to enshrine carbon neutrality into state law,” according to his office.

Among the new targets proposed in his letter to the California Air Resources Board was a planning goal of at least 20 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2045. This goal in particular — which would be the largest such target of any state — was met with the approval of green groups in the state.

Advocacy group Environment California said ina statement that 20 gigawatts of offshore wind is enough to power 14.5 million homes, or more than a third of California’s energy needs. That quantity would also fulfill a sizable chunk of President Biden’s goal of generating 110 gigawatts of wind by 2050 nationwide, the statement added.

American Clean Power-California — a trade association representing clean energy firms — said the move would “help California keep the lights on.”  

In addition to ramping up offshore wind, Newsom’s new targets also included a goal for 3 million climate-friendly homes by 2030 and 7 million by 2035, as well as 6 million heat pumps installed by 2030.

As part of the transition away from fossil fuels, the governor suggested establishing a 20 percent clean fuels target for the aviation sector. He also voiced support for the creation of a task force to identify methane leaks from oil infrastructure near communities.

Newsom also requested that the state raise its targets for carbon removal — the process by which carbon dioxide is taken out of the atmosphere by sequestering it underground or in products like concrete.

The governor proposed setting a goal of 20 million metric tons removed by 2030, an amount that Environment California described as “the annual carbon footprint of small European countries.” He suggested 100 million metric tons by 2045.

“At a time when climate action from the nation’s capital seems out of reach, this news from California is a powerful tonic,” Laura Deehan, Environment California state director, said in a statement.

“Governor Newsom just set the fifth-largest economy in the world on a fast track to tap into offshore wind at a scale that actually meets our needs,” Deehan added.

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