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Future of California's Climate Agenda in Peril

Legislation to reauthorize the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is in peril due to 'a powerful bloc of business-friendly Democrats' who are uneasy about its impact on businesses, particularly Big Oil, due to higher energy costs.
August 8, 2016, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Omar Bárcena

"Senate Bill 32 is shaping up as the biggest fight lawmakers are likely to tackle in what remains of the legislative year," reports Laurel Rosenhall for CALmattersa nonprofit journalism venture dedicated to exploring state policy and politics. 

It pits environmentalist Democrats, mostly from the state’s more prosperous coastal areas, against Democrats and Republicans from struggling inland areas who side with oil companies and other businesses, and whose constituents could be harder hit by rising energy prices.

"This bill would require the state board to approve a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit that is equivalent to 40% below the 1990 level to be achieved by 2030," according to the latest version of the bill, amended from when it was last posted here after the bill failed to pass last year.

As posted initially, SB 32 picks up where AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, ends in 2020. Both bills were written by Fran Pavley, now state Senator (D-Agoura Hills, Los Angeles County).

An ominous sign is that the Speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount, Los Angeles County) stated "earlier in the week that 'it’s not imperative' the bill clear his house this year," reports Rosenhall. However, in an Aug 4 press release, he wrote, "As Senate President pro Tem de Leon noted yesterday and the Governor’s office reiterated today, we are committed to extending California’s emission targets beyond 2020, and we will keep working on this until it’s right.”

Back-up plans:

  • [The California Air Resources Board (CARB)], largely made up of Brown appointees and beyond the Legislature’s control, is already at work on a Plan B—drafting rules that could act as a back-up for Brown’s environmental agenda in case SB 32 withers. 
  • [Gov. Jerry Brown] on [July 28] opened a fundraising committee, taking the first step toward putting an environmental initiative on the 2018 ballot in case the bill fails in the Legislature.

Polling shows support for SB 32

"When asked about this proposal, 68 percent of adults and 59 percent of likely voters favor it," according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll released July 28. "Across parties, Democrats (78%) are twice as likely as Republicans (39%) to favor the expanded goals (59% independents in favor)."

Future of cap-and-trade program

David R. Baker, clean tech and energy reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, reports on the same topic, with a strong focus on the cap-and-trade program which was authorized by the 2006 legislation.

Debate rages over whether the system, which forces businesses to buy a permit for every ton of greenhouse gases they spew into the atmosphere, has any legal authority to continue operating past 2020. California air-pollution regulators, who created the system, insist that it does. The state’s legislative counsel argues otherwise.

Current litigation a threat as well

Meanwhile, a lawsuit from the California Chamber of Commerce charges that the permit fees are a tax and should have required a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to take effect. Although the suit has dragged on for nearly four years, questions raised by an appeals court judge in April suggested that he might side with the chamber.

With the uncertainty surrounding SB 32 and the future of the cap-and-trade program, revenues from May's quarterly auction of carbon permits were less than two percent of what what was projected.

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, August 3, 2016 in CALmatters
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