SACRAMENTO — After weeks of closed-door talks and days of intense debate, a proposal to extend California’s signature program for regulating global-warming greenhouse gases through the end of 2030 finally faces a showdown today in both the Senate and the Assembly.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been making a name for himself as an international climate leader, is under tremendous pressure to pass this cap-and-trade deal — brokered by his office — over objections from some on left and the right. He has been fighting hard to win support for Assembly Bill 398, telling lawmakers last week that “This is the most important vote of your life.”
Brown needs a two-thirds vote in each house — the threshold required to pass new taxes — to ward off court challenges by those arguing it amounts to an illegal tax because it charges businesses to pollute. And with the absence this week of one Democratic lawmaker, he needs help from both sides of the aisle, despite the Democrats’ two-thirds supermajority in both houses.
Two weeks ago, proponents could have counted on two more votes. But former Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, was recently sworn into Congress, a vacant seat held by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, will be away for a week-long absence approved in January, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Under the complex cap-and-trade program, now in place until 2020, refineries, power plants and factories pay to pollute, buying permits at auction and sometimes selling them to each other. The permits correspond to an overall level of allowable emissions that ratchets down each year.
Who’s for it: Business groups including the California Chamber of Commerce, the Bay Area Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group are supporting the measure, as are mainstream environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, which say the cap-and-trade program needs to be extended now to strengthen the program that has been clouded by uncertainty and give a measure of certainty to businesses.
Who’s opposed: Grass-roots groups seeking “environmental justice” for poor and working-class areas hit hard by air pollution say the bill includes too many giveaways to the oil industry, from free permits to emit carbon to limits on local regulation that the industry demanded. Local air districts are opposed, as the bill would take away their ability to set additional rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions outside of the cap-and-trade program. They could still limit toxic contaminants and particulates associated with asthma, but not greenhouse gases.
Republicans as of late last week have not committed to the bill, but have been immersed in negotiations — mostly, over how the billions of dollars that could be raised at quarterly cap-and-trade auctions would be spent.
On Friday, Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes proposed a constitutional amendment — which would need to be approved by the voters — that would give the minority party more influence over where the auction proceeds flow. Currently, 25 percent of the proceeds go to the $64 billion high-speed rail project — a bullet train connecting San Francisco, the Central Valley and Los Angeles — another priority of the governor’s. Republican lawmakers are generally opposed to the project.
One previously undecided lawmaker who has gone on the record supporting the bill is Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. He signed on as a co-author last week, he said, after meeting with the governor.
“I wanted to make sure that we’re getting the best bill that we can get — not only for our state, but for our planet,” Muratsuchi said. “It’s not a perfect bill. But given the powerful oil lobby and their friends in the Legislature it appears to be the best bill that we can get.”
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