Gov. Brown’s legacy push on climate change in trouble

by Chris Reed | August 23, 2016 10:27 am

Jerry BrownIt was just nine months ago that Gov. Jerry Brown basked in the spotlight [1]at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris. The governor heard praise from officials from dozens of nations for how California has implemented AB32, the landmark 2006 state law[2] targeting global warming that requires the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to the levels seen in 1990 by 2020.

A Sacramento Bee account[3] laid out how the four-tern governor had come to see the issue as vital to his legacy and considered the conference “the crucial event for the future of the world” because of its potential to inspire much broader efforts to curb the emission of greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global warming.

But back home, Brown’s vision is getting a much tougher reception than it did in France. It’s increasingly unclear whether the governor can even garner enough support in the California Legislature for legislation that would build on AB32. While the measure, SB32[4], won approval [5]from the Assembly on Tuesday and is likely to be approved by the Senate next week, its implementation is tied to the passage of AB197 by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella. SB32 can only take effect if AB197 is approved this session.

Garcia’s measure would both increase legislative oversight of the state Air Resources Board and require the air board to put more pressure on local factories and oil refineries to cut their emissions. This, in theory, would respond both to greens’ concerns that the cap-and-trade framework is too passive and to state lawmakers’ anxiety over the air board throwing its weight around in ways that cost local jobs.

Siding with ‘people’ over ‘polar bears’

Such a concern about the effects of environmental laws on local jobs wasn’t raised by many Democrats during 2006 when AB32 was approved. But since California switched to the “jungle primary” in 2012 — in which the top two candidates in the June primary advance, regardless of party — the Legislature has seen a surge in business-friendly Democrats suspicious of the green agenda.

“It’s great to hear about saving polar bears and hugging trees, and making sure we address global warming from a world perspective,” Garcia told [6]the Los Angeles Times. “But how about people?”

Last year, these pro-business Democrats teamed with Republicans to kill Gov. Brown’s and Senate President Kevin de Leon’s push for a 50 percent reduction in gasoline use by vehicles in California by 2030.

Increasingly, it looks like Brown’s best option to build in on his legacy is a 2018 ballot measure extending AB32. Polling [7]shows Californians support even more ambitious climate change policies than AB32.

In 2010, Proposition 23[8] — a measure to repeal AB32 — was rejected by state voters, 62 percent to 38 percent.

The governor may also try to use executive orders to extend AB32. But few authorities on California’s government believe a current governor can bind the actions of future governors or legislatures.

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