Legislature needs to pass California’s climate bills now
San Francisco Chronicle Editorial, September 8, 2015 4:54pm
This was never going to be easy.
When California passed AB32 in 2006, state leaders were feted all over the world for their strong leadership and their willingness to do the hard work in the fight against climate change.
But now the party’s over. The state Legislature is embroiled in a tough fight around SB350 and SB32, two critical bills that represent California’s next steps toward achieving our climate change goals.
This year’s legislative deadline is Friday, so legislators must act now.
The most controversial bill is SB350, by state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.
The petroleum industry has its guns aimed on the bill, which would require the state Air Resources Board to decide how the state should reduce petroleum use by 50 percent over the next 15 years and require utilities to increase their renewable energy portfolios to 50 percent by 2030. It would also require improved energy efficiency in buildings.
Those are tough goals, but they’re achievable. California can get there without resorting to the scare tactics that the oil industry is suggesting in its disingenuous ad campaigns (a ban on minivans and SUVs, Soviet-style gas rationing, and other over-the-top threats).
The state Assembly’s own analysis points out that California’s existing regulations have already set the stage for a decline in statewide petroleum consumption by 31 to 41 percent by 2030.
SB350 represents one more push, not a paradigm shift.
Still, there are a few waverers among the moderate Democrats in the state Assembly. (SB350 has already passed the state Senate.)
De León is still seeking to compromise with them (he’s offered amendments to beef up oversight of the state Air Resources Board and is open to giving the state Legislature a chance to modify whatever regulations the board winds up proposing), which is positive. Increasing oversight of the board would be an especially good idea.
But there should be no compromise on the centerpiece guidelines of the bill. After all, the climate isn’t willing to compromise with California.
SB32, authored by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills (Los Angeles County), has gotten less attention — but it doesn’t deserve to get lost in the end-of-the-year fray.
SB32 requires California to further slash greenhouse gas emissions, first to 40 percent below 1990 levels (by 2030), and eventually to 80 percent below 1990 levels (by 2050).
These are ambitious goals, and the state Legislature will have to refine them as technology and conditions change. But there’s no reason to believe that California can’t adapt to high standards.
Since we passed AB32, California’s economy has grown — not cratered. We’ve added jobs all over the economy, from manufacturing to clean technology.
Have there been financial costs? Yes. But Californians also value public health and the future of the planet, and that’s why the state Legislature needs to stop dithering and pass SB32 and SB350.
Bold Bill to Cut California Emissions Sets Off Fierce Battle
By Adam Nagourney, Sept. 4, 2015
SACRAMENTO — With President Obama back from a trip to Alaska in which he portrayed the fight against climate change as an urgent international priority, California is showing how hard it can be — even in a state overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats — to get an ambitious carbon reduction bill passed.
The state has been at the forefront of global efforts to battle greenhouse gases, enacting mandates to force sharp reductions in emissions over the next 35 years. Its environmental record was applauded by Mr. Obama last week, and Pope Francis invited Gov. Jerry Brown to discuss the fight against global warming in the Vatican this summer.
But a centerpiece of California’s long-term campaign against emissions — legislation requiring a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by Jan. 1, 2030 — has set off a fierce battle here, pitting not only a well-financed oil industry against environmentalists, but Democrat against Democrat. The bill easily passed the Senate, but is faltering in the Assembly because of opposition by moderate Democrats, many representing economically suffering districts in central California. A vote is expected early next week.
The legislation faces an onslaught by the Western States Petroleum Association and other oil industry advocates that, in ads and mailings, assert that a 50 percent cut in petroleum use could result in gas rationing and a ban on minivans.
“This law will limit how often we can drive our own cars,” a narrator in one ad says urgently, an assertion the bill’s sponsors say is groundless. The oil industry has tagged the bill “The California Gas Restriction Act of 2015.”
A defeat would be a setback for Mr. Brown — who has made a battle against global warming a centerpiece of his final years in public life — and for environmentalists who have looked to California to lead the emissions fight at time of strong skepticism about global warming in Washington. Mr. Obama urged California lawmakers to enact the bill in a recent speech in Las Vegas, signaling the importance he is attaching to the issue in his final years in office.
The environmental fight here comes on the eve of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris later this year. There, Mr. Brown and Kevin de León, the State Senate Democratic leader who led the fight for the bill in his chamber, are planning to outline for an international audience California’s campaign against greenhouse gases. On Wednesday, the Legislature passed and sent to Mr. Brown a measure requiring the state’s public pension funds to divest from coal companies.
“The rest of the world is watching very closely what is happening in California, and I think so far they see a success story,” Mr. de León said. “Our economy has grown — we are adding jobs, and we are reducing our carbon emissions. Therefore it is absolutely crucial that this measure passes because it will be a big blow to the rest of the states and the whole world if it doesn’t.”
California has mandated an 80 percent cut in emissions by 2050, using 1990 emissions levels as a baseline. The goal has been championed by Democrats like Mr. Brown and Republicans like former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This bill on petroleum, one of several the Legislature is voting on to put these limits in place, is intended to ensure that California meets this target.
The legislation, Senate Bill 350, leaves it to the state’s Air Resources Board to determine how the 50 percent mandate would be met; it does not mention gas rationing or banning minivans. It also includes no penalties in case the mandate is missed. Opponents, in defending the warnings about rationing, noted that the bill is short on specifics on how the reduction would be achieved; they said they see no other way the mandate could be met.
“I can’t figure out any other way to reach a 50 percent reduction in that frame without doing some pretty dramatic measures,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. “If it isn’t gas rationing, what is it? I keep hearing what it isn’t.”
Mr. Brown, in an interview in his office here, said the oil industry was using fear tactics to try to derail the effort before the Legislature adjourns on Sept. 11, but said he was confident of eventual success.
“You’ve got the oil companies fighting Pope Francis,” Mr. Brown said. “Fighting the scientists of the world. Fighting the governor of California. They are engaged in literally a life-and-death struggle, and I have no doubt who is going to be the victor.”
He added: “It’s a shameless effort to maintain their revenue stream — regardless of what the impact is on everyone else. There is no rationing in the bill. Read it. None.”
The concerns have come not only from Republicans, but also from moderate Democrats who represent communities in central California. Many of these communities are struggling with high unemployment and slow economic growth.
“So much of our economy is driven by the use of petroleum,” said Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, a Democrat from the Central Valley and a leader of moderates in his house. “We don’t know what impacts S.B. 350 will have on it. We don’t know because we don’t know what the plan is. What does that look like? We haven’t heard that answer to that. And in the absence of information, you create your own.”
Kristin Olsen, the Assembly Republican leader, said her party was eager to find ways to curb harmful emissions. “My son has asthma — of course I want clean air,” she said. But she questioned why California had to be a leader in an effort that she argued had such significant economic costs.
“We want to be leaders,” she said, “but not when there are no followers. And at some point we have look at the fact that no one is following California’s lead. We are less than 1 percent of the world. At some point we should work on reasonable cost-effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to improve our air quality. But not at the cost of jobs.”
Ms. Boyd, of the petroleum association, said the bill’s sponsors had erred in trying to push the measure through without explaining how it might work. “We think there should be a lot more detail, and it should be articulated pretty clearly about how one thinks they are going to be about this superaggresive mandate,” she said.
Backers of the bill said reductions would be achieved by, among other things, bolstering the fuel efficiency of existing cars and increasing the number of electric cars on the roads, while pushing urban planning policies that help enable people to walk to their jobs and to shopping districts.
“We don’t have a choice — we have to make these changes,” said Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager and environmental advocate who has been championing the bill. “In listening to these people talk about how there is going to be rationing, I’m like, stop making up stories and start telling us what will happen under your scenario.”
“We are in the process of changing how we use energy in the United States of America,” Mr. Steyer added. “The way this happens is, the private sector comes up with new ideas, and people either like them or not.”
Mr. de León, the leader of the State Senate Democrats, said that he was preparing amendments to his bill to try to ease concerns. One amendment would give the Legislature more of a say over the final recommendation by the Air Resources Board.
Mr. Brown said that even if this bill were to be defeated, enough other legislation was already in place that he was confident of long-term victory.
“This is not the whole battle,” Mr. Brown said. “This bill has become a lightning rod. It’s important. But California is way down the road in terms of the thrust and momentum that has been building up for over a decade.”
By any clean-and-green measure, California zooms past the rest of the nation, requiring cleaner fuels, more alternative energy and cars that use less gas. As these policies have taken root, the state economy has strengthened, creating more jobs in a forward-looking marketplace.
The connection should be clear. California is not only plotting a new energy course, but it’s also prospering. The state law that set emission goals nearly a decade ago hasn’t harmed livelihoods or sent business fleeing.
This experience should teach Sacramento an important lesson as lawmakers face a decision on doing more about climate change. The state Legislature is on the verge of approving a sweeping measure, SB350, that would cut gas and diesel use by half, boost renewable sources of electricity from a third to 50 percent, and double energy efficiency in buildings, all within 15 years. A second measure, SB32, would widen a state cap-and-trade program that cuts other sources of emissions blamed for rising global temperatures.
These targets will put California far beyond President Obama’s plans to curb pollution from power plants and boost solar, wind and biofuels in the nation’s mix of energy sources. But SB350, which has passed the state Senate, could falter in the Assembly where more moderate, business-friendly Democrats hold power.
The forces are building to block the bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat. The oil industry, a steady source of campaign funds, is putting pressure on Assembly Democrats to stop the bill or water it down. These foes predict gas rationing, extra fees and arbitrary directives from state bureaucrats if the law kicks in.
Walking away from the bill would be a mistake, a step backward that will deny California cleaner air, greener energy and an opportunity to lead a timid nation on an essential issue. Wavering lawmakers should consider a recent poll showing that two-thirds of the state believes a deepening drought is linked to climate change and supports Gov. Jerry Brown’s directives that match up with SB350.
Along with California’s welcoming politics on the topic, there is direct experience to consider. Tech breakthroughs ranging from cleaner-burning engines to cheaper solar panels are helping this state move forward. Growing numbers of high-mileage cars, including electric and hybrid models, are expected to provide nearly half of the gas savings needed to hit the 50 percent drop by 2030.
There are reasons to be cautious. Energy improvements often come with steep startup costs such as solar panels on the roof or the purchase of a gas-thrifty car. Low-income residents will need a break in tapping technology available only to well-off consumers. State regulators should be flexible in designing new programs to advance conservation.
But California has shown it can adapt and thrive as it heads in this direction. Climate change is a provable and genuine threat to the state’s future. It’s time to adopt genuine changes that guide the state in the right direction and serve as a model for the rest of the country.
How far should California go?
A sweeping bill would change the way residents drive, live and work. Here are the major ingredients of SB350, which has passed the state Senate and is up for a vote in the Assembly:
On the road: Cut petroleum use in half by 2030. Tailpipe emissions are a top source of carbon dioxide, the main factor behind climate change. Oil companies are lobbying heavily against the limit, saying it will bring angry lines at gas pumps in a car-crazy state. Higher-mileage cars including electric and hybrids will be key in making this directive work.
On the grid: Half of the state’s electricity would come from renewables, up from a one-third level in five years. Utilities have qualms but are not actively opposed.
In the home: Doubling the efficiency in buildings to conserve heating and cooling costs. No major opposition.
BREAKING NEWS: Major Climate Change Bills PASS Critical Committee Vote in California Legislature
August 28, 2015, 11:09am PDT
…two major climate change bills just passed critical committee votes in the California Assembly: Senate Bills 32 and 350. Today’s victory in the Appropriations Committee is a win for Californians like you over the profit-driven interests of Big Oil, but the battle for these bills isn’t over yet.