Capitol Alert

Governor compares fighting climate change to building Noah’s Ark

Gov. Jerry Brown, likening efforts to reduce climate change to the construction of Noah’s Ark, pressed forward Monday with an expansion of the state’s increasingly stringent state climate program, signing legislation requiring California to reduce emissions of fluorinated gases, black carbon and methane.

The law’s enactment, affecting emissions ranging from diesel trucks and air conditioning units to landfills and dairies, marked the third time in two weeks that Brown has staged a bill-signing ceremony to rally support for his environmental causes.

The fourth-term Democrat, without naming Donald Trump, criticized “people running for president who say there’s no such thing ... even though he’s standing a few hundred feet away from the rising sea of Miami, Florida.”

“It’s very hard to deal with something down the road,” said Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian. “You know, when Noah wanted to build his ark, most of the people laughed at him: ‘Why are you building this damn ark?’ Well, lucky he did, because that saved all the species and Noah and his family.”

Brown said, “We’ve got to build our ark, too, by stopping climate change, by stopping dangerous pollutants and doing it as soon as possible.”

Brown’s approval of Senate Bill 1383 followed his enactment this month of landmark legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Though less sweeping than that mandate, the bill signed Monday reflects a significant shift in climate politics in California, with the state broadening its focus from efforts to reduce carbon dioxide to the public health effects of an especially potent class of pollutants, including methane and black carbon.

Scientists blame these “short-lived climate pollutants,” although they dissipate from the atmosphere relatively quickly, for accelerating the pace of global warming and sickening millions of people worldwide each year.

“The fact that it may be a little complicated doesn’t mean the impact isn’t devastating and clear on the lungs of little children and elderly people,” Brown said.

Senate Bill 1383, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, will require the state to reduce emissions of methane and hydrofluorocarbon gases to 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030, and black carbon to 50 percent below 2013 levels by the same year.

The bill’s signing was never in doubt. Brown lobbied for the bill in the Legislature, emphasizing the health effects of black carbon after lawmakers rebuffed his proposal to reduce petroleum use in motor vehicles last year.

Some moderate Democrats, including from poor and heavily polluted areas of the state, had complained during the petroleum debate that California’s climate change policies did too little for the environment in their districts.

Lara said Monday that “climate change is bad for polar bears and penguins” but that he was motivated more by the “devastating impact” of pollutants on “children growing up right here in our own backyard.”

The bill is likely to have a major impact on California’s methane-emitting landfills and dairies, whose opposition fell away after the bill was modified to, among other things, give dairies more time to reduce emissions.

Still, the bill only narrowly passed the Legislature, over opposition from the oil industry and other business groups.

Tom Scott, state executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the bill would increase costs on business.

“We are deeply disappointed Gov. Brown signed this bill since it will lead to job loss and potentially increased pollution as affected industries are forced to relocate to neighboring states with more relaxed environmental laws,” he said.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders