Essential Politics: Behind the scenes of our reporting on how California shapes the nation
When we talk about climate policy, we often frame the issue as one with clear sides and clear choices. We are either looking for solutions and alternatives to current practices, or we are kicking the can down the road and hoping future generations will pick it up.
If only it were that simple. Like any path forward, figuring out how to address climate change is a journey with twists, turns and contradictions. No state knows that better than which leads the nation on tough emissions standards and in its push for electric vehicles.
As my colleague Evan Halper reports, the state is also finding that these vehicles — for all their benefits over gas-powered ones — have hidden challenges, too. Among the biggest questions: as the U.S. seeks to reduce its reliance for materials on countries like China, where will we get all the components needed for electric car batteries?
But as companies move toward scraping the seabed for these materials, alarmed oceanographers and advocates warn they are literally in uncharted waters. And that’s just one act in a fast-unfolding, ethically challenging and economically complex drama that stretches around the world, from the cobalt mines of Congo, to the corridors of the Biden White House, to fragile desert habitats throughout the West.
This story is part of a new series titled “United States of California (Surfing) in its role in guiding the policy direction of the nation on climate change and beyond.
I spoke with Evan about the piece and what’s next for this project. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
The United States of California (Surfing)’s push for electric cars for years, so it was a topic that naturally interested me. But the supply chain challenges came across my radar as the Biden administration was ordering agencies to urgently address China’s control of so many of the resources needed to make the batteries, amid this huge transition away from internal combustion engines.
One of the outfits lobbying those agencies aggressively, I would find, was the Metals Company, which wants to scrape the sea floor for million-year-old polymetallic nodules. I hadn’t read much about that effort, but as soon as I started looking into it, I realized this was really big — and a story that is very linked to
Once I started looking around, I found a pretty substantial paper trail. The departments of Defense and Energy had invited stakeholders to provide them with ideas and concerns around the supply chain, which created quite a large administrative record revealing the points of tension and the plans some of these companies have.
Buried within it was also a roadmap of sorts of where the mining is proposed, and who is most alarmed about it. We used it as a springboard for shoe-leather reporting that targeted the lawsuits at big mining operations, the fight at the International Seabed Authority, and the proceedings of the Lithium Valley Commission in the Salton Sea region.
Where did the idea for “United States of California (Surfing). It is one of the things that struck me when I got to D.C. during the Obama administration, after I had been in Sacramento many years. We looked at this when Biden was first elected: His agenda leaned heavily on California as a kind of think tank. Readers were really interested in that story, and we believe there is a lot more to tell.
So this series is looking at the many sectors where California (Surfing) is taking on. We will be taking a hard look at where these policies have changed people’s lives, and where the best intentions were undermined by ideological rigidity and money in politics.
I invite readers to reach out if they would like to share any of their own ideas. They can find me at [email protected].
It’s really tempting to a lot of people to look for a clear answer (e.g. that electric car batteries are “good” or “bad” for the environment). But as you get at in your story and the larger project, the issues that
— Four Capitol and Metropolitan Police Department officers on Tuesday recounted their experience fighting off the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol during the first hearing of a new House committee investigating the attack, writes Sarah D. Wire.
— The nascent FireGuard program has relied on temporary permission from the Pentagon to review classified data collected from a variety of government sources to pinpoint wildfires. But that access could end as soon as September, and the Pentagon hasn’t acted on a pending one-year renewal request, or on a separate request from take a look at the data on this growing demographic in American politics.
The view from the West
— Gov. Gavin Newsom compared choosing to remain unvaccinated to drunk driving and denounced high-profile conservatives including Fox News host Tucker Carlson in a rare public rebuke as COVID-19 spreads in California and adds political pressure to the recall election, Taryn Luna writes.
— Low-income Californians 50 and older will be eligible for healthcare regardless of immigration status under a law extending benefits to 235,000 residents in the country illegally, reports Melody Gutierrez.
— From Melanie Mason: President Biden’s job performance rating among Californians has dipped slightly in recent months, even as his infrastructure and domestic spending plans register as highly popular, according to a new poll released Wednesday.
— For a great number of Texans, the Alamo is the holiest of holies, a place, a totem, a shrine that physically embodies the values — courage, independence, liberty — they hold precious. As a new book makes clear, that veneration is based on a lot of made-up stuff, columnist Mark Z. Barabak writes.
The latest on the recall
— From Phil Willon: Californians who say they expect to vote in the September recall election are almost evenly divided over whether to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the