California Passes Twin Climate-Change Bills

SACRAMENTO (CN) — A 20-month battle between California’s Democratic leaders and the oil industry over an environmental plan requiring deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions was settled Wednesday when lawmakers approved a pair of climate change bills.
     The sweeping climate plan cements California’s dedication to the nation’s strictest greenhouse gas laws through 2030.
     The heavily contested twin bills set the ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, and create new legislative oversight over the state agency that enforces climate policies.
     The proposals stalled last summer when Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon couldn’t drum up support from business-minded Democrats in rural districts who worried the strengthened climate policy could drive away agricultural and energy jobs.
     Nearly a year later, Brown and the Democrats claimed victory Wednesday during a news conference minutes after the state Senate voted 25-13 in favor of Senate Bill 32.
     Brown has made climate change policy a focal point of his final years in office and said the bills give the Legislature “real power” to enforce the Golden State’s stringent global warming laws.
     “The passage of this bill gives legislative force to our clean air goals for 2030,” Brown said. “This is a real commitment backed up by real power.”
     After the climate change bills were defeated in 2015 in what Brown coined a “titanic struggle” with the oil industry, the fourth-term governor and other Democrats were forced to the bargaining table. They had to make major changes to the makeup of the California Air Resources Board to gain enough votes in the Senate.
     Republicans and Democrats have accused the regulator of wielding too much power in implementing climate laws and demanded more legislative control over the unelected agency, through Assembly Bill 197, the companion bill to SB 32.
     Before the Assembly floor vote on AB 197, Speaker Anthony Rendon said the air resources board has credibility issues with lawmakers.
     “It is obvious it’s a bipartisan credibility problem,” said Rendon, D-Paramount. “This is a good first step toward addressing that.”
     Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, said reforming the air resource board was a critical step in preparing for the damaging effects of climate change.
     “This is an oncoming humanitarian disaster of great proportions,” Williams said before the vote.
     Less than two hours after the Assembly cleared AB 197 by a 44-28 margin, the Senate took up the companion emissions measure Senate Bill 32. Both bills contained language stating that they would become operative only if both were passed and signed.
     Republicans fought SB 32, claiming their districts have suffered major job losses and increased energy prices since California passed the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act. They admonished lawmakers from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area for pushing a bill they contend disproportionately affects Central Valley farming communities.
     “It’s shameful when coastal elites have no sympathy for the middle class and the working poor who do not live on the coast,” said state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford.
     After both bills passed, Brown took a swipe at oil industry lobbyists and their “Trump-inspired acolytes.”
     “They have been vanquished and vanquished in a very solid way because of the people standing behind me,” Brown said, joined on stage by De Leon and the authors of the climate bills.
     Next for California climate leaders is the state’s expiring carbon tax program known as cap-and-trade. It requires businesses that emit greenhouse gases to buy permits at state auctions, with the money going to infrastructure projects, such as the high-speed rail plan.
     The carbon tax is scheduled to sunset in 2020 and Democrats want it extended. Recent cap-and-trade auctions results have stalled, with revenue falling millions short of expectations.
     Brown has said he might lead a statewide ballot measure in 2018 if lawmakers don’t come to agreement on an extension.
     “We’ll have more battles and we’ll have more victories,” Brown said of the oil industry.

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