Brown slams deniers, stays course on climate in state address

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, January 25, 2016

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) preached a message of fiscal restraint in his State of the State speech last week, warning that global vicissitudes can affect state coffers and that economic recessions are unpredictable and will unquestionably occur again.

But he saved the finale for climate change, vowing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through 2050 and continue spreading his message of climate evangelism worldwide. While he didn’t break new ground, observers said he set a steady course for the coming year.

Brown spoke of increasing the state’s rainy-day fund and eschewed any new proposals.

“The challenge is to solve today’s problems without making those of tomorrow even worse,” he said. “Our job is to clearly face the facts we do know and prepare for the many unknowns as best we can. In that spirit, you are not going to hear me talk today about new programs.”

Instead, Brown called for continued investment in infrastructure, particularly transportation, and highlighted past achievements, like last year’s passage of S.B. 350, a bill to raise the state’s share of renewable generation to 50 percent by 2030 and double the efficiency of existing buildings.

He touted the state’s work on an international memorandum of understanding that commits signatories to lowering emissions to 2 tons per capita by 2050 (ClimateWire, Jan. 14). Brown also had sharp words for members of Congress who oppose action on climate.

“Incredibly — though last year was the hottest on record — there are still those, particularly in Washington, who are in denial,” he said. “But even the deniers can’t deny the carbon pollution that exists all over the world. It is causing serious injury and respiratory disease to people of all ages, but especially the young and very old.”

No additions to a full policy plate

While Brown frequently excoriates Congress for its failure to act on climate, he had last month’s U.N. agreement struck in Paris to point to this time as a harbinger of progress.

“Thankfully, the rest of the world has heard the message: Humankind must change its ways and radically decarbonize the economy,” he said.

“The Paris climate agreement was a breakthrough, and California was there leading the way. Over 100 states, provinces and regions have now signed onto our Under 2 MOU. The goal is to bring per-capita greenhouse gases down to 2 tons per person. This will take decades and vast innovation. But with S.B. 350, we’re on our way,” Brown added.

Some observers seized on Brown’s “no new programs” statement. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, posted it on Twitter.

But environmental proponents waved it away, saying California regulators already have a full climate plate for the year.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) is in the midst of drafting a new “scoping plan” to take the state’s greenhouse gas targets through 2030 and is also writing rules for short-lived climate pollutants and oil and natural gas facilities (ClimateWire, Jan. 11, 2015).

“I think when it comes to ambition and targets and goals, it’s hard to surpass what California already has on the table,” said Alex Jackson, legal director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California Climate Project. “We need to focus now on rearing back and taking aim and hitting the target, and I think that’s an appropriate message heading into this year.”

‘Room for legislation’?

New direction could come from lawmakers, rather than Brown. Jackson said he’s hoping that S.B. 32, a bill to enshrine the 2030 climate target that failed to gain traction last year, will re-emerge.

“Just the fact alone that he said he’s not announcing new programs this year doesn’t worry me that they’re not going to accomplish anything,” said Sarah Duffy, a fellow at the UCLA Law School’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

“When he’s saying he’s not announcing any new programs,” Duffy said, “I interpret that as programs from the executive office, which certainly leaves room for new legislation.”

An industry representative also said he was focusing on the Legislature in the hope that lawmakers will introduce bills to exert more oversight over ARB.

“One primary goal this year and beyond is just to get them to really have some oversight over these policies that are coming out,” said Gino DiCaro, spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association.

Duffy also pointed out that Brown’s focus on transportation infrastructure could help further the state’s climate policies, some of which focus on reducing emissions from the transportation sector by reducing vehicle miles traveled. The state is also spending revenue from its greenhouse gas auctions on its high-speed rail project and building low-income housing near public transportation hubs.

“A lot of what California needs to do for decreasing greenhouse gases has to do with the transportation sector, so his commitment to maintaining and improving infrastructure, particularly transportation, definitely aligns with the goals of the climate change law even though they’re not explicitly related to the cap-and-trade law or some of the more big-ticket items that have come out of his climate change agenda,” she said.