Brown on climate bill: ‘I’m going to be dead; it’s for you’

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, July 16, 2017

A bill to extend California’s cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases emerged from its first committee vote yesterday, but battles likely lie ahead as Gov. Jerry Brown (D) seeks a supermajority consensus over the weekend.

Brown and state legislative leaders are seeking a floor vote as soon as next Monday to extend the state’s landmark economywide greenhouse gas market through 2030 in order to underpin their 2030 target of 40 percent below 1990 emissions levels.

Brown made a rare appearance in the Legislature yesterday at a Senate Environmental Quality Committee hearing on the bills, where he implored lawmakers to approve A.B. 398 by a two-thirds vote. He addressed a packed hearing room of environmentalists and industry and business advocates at the bill’s first public airing since being unveiled on Monday after weeks of negotiations.

“I’ll be dead,” he said. “What am I, 79? Do I have five years more? Do I have 10 years more? Fifteen? I don’t know. Twenty? I don’t know if I even want that long. But most of you people, a lot of you people are going to be alive, and you’re going to be alive in a horrible situation that you’re going to see mass migrations, vector diseases, forest fires, Southern California burning up. That’s real, guys. That’s what the scientists of the world are saying. I’m not here about some cockamamie legacy that people talk about. This isn’t for me. I’m going to be dead; it’s for you. It’s for you, and it’s damn real.”

He cited China’s interest in cap and trade, as well as subnational governments that are interested in formally linking with California’s market. “The way to go is the most efficient, elegant program in the whole world,” he said. “Ontario’s waiting to join; so is Oregon. You have an incredible mechanism that protects our economy and that reduces greenhouse gases. Don’t throw this thing out.”

Oregon lawmakers, who introduced a cap-and-trade bill last week, sent California lawmakers a letter Wednesday stressing their support for action this session.

“Oregon is positioned to be the next state to adopt a similar carbon pricing program that is designed to join the regional trading system, but we need the certainty that California remains committed to its pioneering program beyond 2020,” wrote state Sen. Michael Dembrow (D) and state Rep. Ken Helm (D). “If you are not able to secure an extension of California’s cap and trade program before your 2017 session wraps up, it could seriously hamper our 2018 efforts.”

Brown has been working with lawmakers, industry and labor groups, environmental groups, and others since the spring on proposals to extend cap and trade, which is authorized to impose declining carbon caps only through 2020 by the 2006 law A.B. 32. He is aiming to pass a bill extending the program by a supermajority vote, which would insulate it from lawsuits under Proposition 26, a 2010 ballot initiative that requires a two-thirds vote to approve taxes and fees. His aides have said they want to reach a deal before the next auction of greenhouse gas permits next month to bolster participation and revenues, and the Legislature goes into recess July 21.

Divisions among greens, regulators

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s (D) A.B. 398 would extend the current system through 2030 and tie it to conventional air pollutants, which would be monitored more closely under a companion measure, A.B. 617. Addressing local air problems is seen as key to reaching an agreement on cap and trade, given a growing bloc of lawmakers who represent poor and disadvantaged areas. The bills are not joined, meaning one can pass without the other.

The package has quickly divided environmental groups, both for its provisions to carry over a glut of unsold allowances and the practice of giving a significant proportion of allowances to industry for free, as well as for a provision that would prevent the state Air Resources Board and local air districts from regulating carbon dioxide from oil and gas facilities other than through cap and trade.

It has also split regulators, with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District opposing the pre-emption provision. The agency had been preparing a local rule to cap CO2 emissions from the Bay Area’s five refineries. A.B. “398 has a provision that explicitly excludes the air district from regulating the sources that are in the cap-and-trade program,” said BAAQMD Executive Officer Jack Broadbent. “We don’t think that makes a lot of sense.”

One appointee to the state’s main climate and air pollution agency also took a stance against the bill in a call with reporters Tuesday.

“This bill sets a very bad precedent that represents a huge step backwards in our well-regarded fight on climate,” said Diane Takvorian, director of the Environmental Health Coalition, who was appointed by the Assembly to the ARB last year to represent the environmental justice contingent. “If we’re not able to get there, I think the leadership [of the state] will be in question.”

Despite the vocal opposition from environmental justice groups on the left, it was Republican lawmakers who proved immovable in yesterday’s hearing. Both bills passed out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee yesterday on a 5-2 party-line vote.

“This bill will raise gas prices,” committee Vice Chairman Jeff Stone (R) said in a release. “It will increase utility costs. It will cost small businesses and taxpayers billions of dollars a year so the state can pay for pork projects like the Governor’s High Speed Choo Choo Train to nowhere.” U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) and other California GOP members also sent Brown a letter yesterday opposing the extension of cap and trade and the spending of proceeds on Brown’s statewide high-speed rail line.

Brown has Democratic supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly but has no margin for error, after former Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D) was sworn into the U.S. House on Tuesday after his election last month. Brown and legislative leaders had originally planned a floor vote on the bills this week, but delayed it until Monday in order to woo lawmakers with affordable housing provisions.

“I think the Senate has the votes,” one observer close to the proceedings said. “If the governor comes up with new money for housing this weekend, I suspect he will pull in a lot of votes from Assembly progressives who don’t want to vote for 398.”

Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes issued a statement yesterday setting out negotiating terms. “There are no Assembly Republican votes for the cap and trade deal in its current form,” he said. “We will not support a deal that doesn’t cut taxes, roll back regulations and protect ordinary Californians.”

‘World is watching’

The fight over cap and trade is taking place against the backdrop of national politics. At stake, according to groups for and against the proposal, is the possession of the global climate leadership mantle, which Brown has seized in the wake of President Trump’s repudiation of the Paris climate agreement and other climate policies championed by former President Obama.

Mainstream environmentalists and industry groups are arguing that the bills would not only extend the program itself, but send a signal to the rest of the country and world. Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Alex Jackson said the overall package was worth the “bitter pills” of industry concessions.

“The world is watching for California to chart a path through the climate denial and obstruction coming from the White House — and California is yet again poised to deliver,” he said.

Brown has corralled heavy hitters in the environmental policy world to lobby for the bill, as well as industry groups like the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, which released a video Wednesday promoting cap and trade. “The other 49 states and the international community are looking to California,” it says. “We must lead.”

Former U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and former EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe weighed in with an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, also citing international perceptions. “At a time when federal leadership is taking a nap on climate action, this extension will send a clear signal to other countries that the American people are not asleep and we are not powerless,” they wrote.

State Senate Environmental Quality Committee Chairman Bob Wieckowski (D), who had sponsored an alternative plan this spring, S.B. 775, that was more palatable to environmental justice groups in its banning of carbon offsets and erasing the surplus supply of pre-2020 allowances, acknowledged the tensions between in-state and extraterritorial politics.

“My top priority is extending cap and trade beyond 2020 to ensure California continues its role as a global leader in fighting climate change,” he said in a statement. “Although I would prefer a much more robust cap and trade program as spelled out in SB 775, the governor’s proposal attempts to move us forward to 2030.”