Lump of coal - 140If you care about global warming, you’ve got to care about coal.  Unlike oil and gas—for which North America production is in decline—there’s plenty of coal left on American soil.  And while some energy companies and promoters of “energy independence” see this as an unqualified good, those of us who see such things through the lens of climate change see the “wall of coal” as one of the scariest things out there. 

And that’s why California’s latest foray into climate policy is so heartening.  Go California!

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to approve rules that would… effectively ban Southern California Edison Co. and other non-municipal utilities in California from signing long-term contracts to import electricity from existing plants that burn coal in the intermountain West.

Now on the one hand, this is a huge deal. California isn’t just acting to curb coal consumption within its own boundaries; it’s putting limits on electricity purchases from other states.  And as a result, it’s influencing infrastructure decisions all across the intermountain West, where heaps of new coal-fired power plants have been proposed.

But on the other hand, unless other states adopt similar policies, California’s action will only go so far.  The danger is that power suppliers can just game the system; the Northwest states, for example, could start exporting more hydropower and wind power to California, and then turn around and import more coal-fired power from, say, Wyoming or Nevada.  As far as I can tell, there’s nothing in California’s plan that would prevent these sorts of shenanigans.

That’s not a critique of what California’s doing, obviously.  It’s a critique of what the Northwest states are doing.  What’s it going to take for our states to start playing follow the leader?