Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown signs funding bill amid push to extend cap and trade

Jerry Brown: Parts of California will become 'unlivable' if climate change goes unchecked

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Gov. Jerry Brown, laboring to build support for California’s controversial cap-and-trade program, signed legislation Wednesday authorizing $900 million in spending on climate-related programs, including clean car rebates, parks and public transportation.

The legislation, negotiated by Brown and legislative leaders last month, was significant to many moderate Democrats who viewed spending in their districts as critical to buttress a state climate program that has faced heavy resistance from industry.

Brown’s signature on the cap-and-trade expenditure was never in doubt, but the bill-signing ceremony marked the beginning of a public relations push in his effort to extend cap and trade beyond 2020. The program, in which polluters pay to offset emissions under a declining cap, is on tenuous footing amid litigation and uncertainty in the Legislature.

Brown, appearing in a heavily polluted region of the state still suffering from effects of the recession, framed cap and trade as a program that “creates real jobs” and benefits poor people. The program is a significant source of revenue from Brown’s $64 billion high-speed rail projects and other climate-related initiatives.

“Cleaning up the air is not something that is forgetting about poor people,” he told a small crowd on the sun-baked roof of a parking garage in Fresno. “Because in this area particularly, and in Riverside and other places, the air’s bad. And a lot of kids have asthma, a lot of old people have bronchitis and other kinds of respiratory diseases. And you put this poison into the air, and you can actually take it out. That’s what this bill is all about. It’s cleaning things up, the pollutants, it’s reducing the greenhouse gases, all that’s good for people, rich and poor alike.”

The spending plan authorized Wednesday includes $140 million for transportation, housing and other programs in especially poor and heavily polluted areas of the state, $135 million for transit and intercity rail programs, $80 million for the creation of local parks and green spaces and $133 million in subsidies for clean vehicle purchases.

The use of cap-and-trade revenue has been controversial since 2014, when Brown and legislative leaders agreed to dedicate 25 percent of carbon emission funds in future years to high-speed rail. The Democratic governor and lawmakers repeatedly put off negotiating other spending, with environmentalists criticizing Brown for withholding funding.

Some environmental justice groups have criticized cap and trade for allowing industries to continue polluting in poor areas of the state while buying offsets, while many conservatives have criticized spending from the program. Hosts on Fresno’s KMJ talk radio were mocking Brown on air minutes before he spoke.

Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said more cap-and-trade money should go to businesses to help them comply with greenhouse gas reduction mandates.

“This is such a pot of money spread around to so many places,” he said. “I want to see exactly the measurables for where it gets spent, who gets it, and what it accomplishes.”

The cap-and-trade bill signing came a week after Brown signed Senate Bill 32, sweeping legislation requiring California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. While the legislation did not expressly authorize of cap and trade beyond 2020, it offered Brown leverage to negotiate an extension.

“They’re going to get commands to do things,” Brown said last month of California’s business interests, “and they’re going to plead for a market system called cap and trade so they can respond in a way that’s more beneficial to their bottom line.”

Brown, a longtime champion of environmental causes, shielded his head from the sun while waiting to speak on Wednesday.

“If this climate change gets away from us – and I’m not saying tomorrow, but in the next years, decades – it can be so hot here it becomes unlivable,” he said.

Lawmakers who joined Brown for the signing ceremony said the authorization of such a large pool of cap-and-trade spending could improve the visibility of the program outside of Sacramento. High-speed rail, another main beneficiary of the program, became far less popular among California voters after they approved its construction in 2008.

“There’s going to be a drastic investment into these communities,” said Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles. “And I believe if we actually extend our program, the cap-and-trade program, this is the foundation for the greatest investment into low-income communities to deal with climate change ever. But that’s only if we continue these programs that have already started changing the face of California.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders