California Climate Law Touted As Global Model Clears Hurdle
Published July 18th, 2017
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers moved closer Monday to renewing a climate initiative that Gov. Jerry Brown holds up as a model for confronting global warming to be replicated around the world.
But a key hurdle remains.
The state Senate voted to give another decade of life to California's cap-and-trade program, sending the measure to the Assembly, which was scheduled to take it up immediately. The legislation has global implications as the largest U.S. state moves to be a leader in reducing carbon emissions at a time when President Donald Trump is pulling back from fighting global warming.
"It is more important than ever for California to send a crystal clear message to the world that that does not represent all Americans," said Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat.
Brown portrays the initiative as essential for the survival of civilization, but critics say it fails to aggressively combat pollution. It is one of his highest priorities as he nears the end of his fourth term, but he's struggled to line up support from two-thirds of lawmakers that he will need.
The program expires in 2020 if lawmakers don't renew it. The real battle is in the Assembly, where 54 votes are needed to pass it but where Democrats have only 53 members present due to a lawmaker's longstanding absence and a fresh vacancy from another who went to Congress. That makes Republican support essential.
But the plan has mobilized intense opposition from conservatives who say it will raise costs in an already expensive state as well as from liberals who say it's too timid for progressive California.
Cap and trade puts a limit on carbon emissions and requires polluters to obtain permits to release greenhouse gases. Some permits, known as allowances, are given away while others are auctioned, generating billions of dollars in revenue for the state.
Lawmakers are considering a package of measures, one to renew cap and trade through 2030 and another aimed at improving local air quality. A third would give Republicans more of a say in how to spend money collected through cap and trade. All three cleared the Senate.
Brown sounded an apocalyptic tone in a rare personal appeal before a Senate committee last week, telling lawmakers that failing to pass the extension would lead to fires, disease and mass migration, not to mention higher costs for food and gasoline.
Republicans likened the bill to a tax that will hit Californians at the gas pump and the grocery store. The nonpartisan legislative analyst said last year that the existing cap and trade program accounted for an 11-cent-per-gallon increase in gasoline prices. The office has not analyzed the extension proposal.
"We could shut down the entire state of California and it would have absolutely no effect on the global climate," said Sen. Andy Vidak, a Republican from Hanford in the agricultural Central Valley. "But what is measureable is the effect this tax will have on the poorest of the poor in my district and across California."
Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte was the only Senate Republican to support the legislation.
The bill is supported by national environmental groups and business interests, which echo Brown's refrain that cap and trade is the most affordable way for California to meet its ambitious climate goals.
State law requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030 — among the most aggressive mandates for carbon reduction in the world. Without cap and trade, state regulators will be forced to enact restrictive mandates on polluters that would be burdensome for businesses and significantly more expensive for consumers, Brown said.
The legislation shows the divisions between environmentalists who work nationally, focusing on reducing global carbon emissions and creating a policy that can be replicated elsewhere, and environmental justice advocates who work locally.
The latter group said cap and trade allows polluters to keep fouling the air around major sources of pollution like oil refineries and objected to concessions Brown made to the oil industry and other polluters in a bid to win support from Republicans and moderate Democrats.
Some lawmakers have questioned why Brown so urgently wants to extend a program that doesn't expire for another 2½ years. Brown says extending it now would give businesses the certainty they need to plan.
A quick extension would also bolster Brown's global advocacy for climate action. He made a high-profile trip to China last month, plans to attend a climate summit in Germany in November and will host a climate conference next year in San Francisco.