Capitol Alert

‘Most important vote of your life’ coming on climate, Jerry Brown tells lawmakers

Jerry Brown urges lawmakers to extend climate change program

Gov. Jerry Brown testified at the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on July 13, 2017, telling lawmakers that upcoming votes on climate change legislation will be the most important in their life.
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Gov. Jerry Brown testified at the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on July 13, 2017, telling lawmakers that upcoming votes on climate change legislation will be the most important in their life.

Gov. Jerry Brown, pressing for support of a climate package slated for votes next week, held up the state’s cap-and-trade program as the most efficient and elegant way to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases, warning legislators Thursday that the alternative would be significantly more burdensome and massively expensive.

“Don’t throw this thing out,” Brown said during a rare appearance at a legislative committee. “Don’t put us under the Air Resources Board for an intrusive command-and-control. Cap and trade is the way forward.”

Brown foreshadowed an apocalyptic scenario of mass migrations, vector diseases and “Southern California burning up” if climate change goes unchecked and California vacates its standing as a global environmental leader.

“I’m not here about some cockamamie legacy that people talk about,” the 79-year-old Democrat added, his voice rising as he turned to the gallery in the Capitol’s largest committee room. “This isn’t for me. I’m going to be dead. It’s for you. And it’s damn real.”

Redirecting his testimony to state senators, Brown concluded: “This is the most important vote of your life.”

Brown and Democratic legislative leaders unveiled the long-awaited measures late Monday – Assembly Bill 398, by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, to extend the program until 2030, and AB 617, a separate measure on air quality from Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens. Several business and environmental organizations have joined Brown in urging its swift passage.

But the package, which requires approval by two-thirds of lawmakers and was delayed once this week, was met with tepid support and some resistance from the right and left, including environmentalists who suggest it does too much to appease industry. Skeptical lawmakers contend it may not go far enough to protect their districts from major polluters.

President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, acknowledged that the deal was “not perfect,” but added, “We believe this is the best bill ... given our (political) climate here today.”

Under cap and trade, which established a statewide annual limit on carbon emissions, firms are required to purchase carbon emissions credits at auctions administered by the Air Resources Board or on the open market. Each permit allows polluters to expel a ton of carbon.

Brown, who met earlier in the day with Assembly Democrats, sat for nearly five hours taking notes and offering rebuttals in a Senate Environmental Quality hearing. He reiterated the need for Republican support, despite Democrats boasting a supermajority in the Legislature. The Senate committee passed the bill with a 5-2 vote along party lines.

The cap-and-trade bill exempts electric power companies from paying the sales tax on equipment purchases, certain construction-related costs and other expenses. It also includes a suspension of the state’s fire prevention fee, a controversial charge on more than 800,000 property owners who live in rural areas.

Republicans face mounting pressure from both sides. On Thursday, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and colleagues sent Republican legislators a letter stating that the cap-and-trade extension “will only exacerbate the extraordinary gas tax increase pushed though by Sacramento Democrats set to take effect this November.”

McCarthy and Reps. Devin Nunes, Ken Calvert and Tom McClintock singled out the high-speed rail system favored by Brown as one of the beneficiaries of cap-and-trade proceeds. “California Republicans in Washington and in Sacramento remain united in opposition to this boondoggle,” they wrote.

Jon Fleischman, the conservative activist and former executive director of the California Republican Party, was at the state Capitol on Wednesday making personal appeals to Republicans to reject the bills.

Fleischman said supporting a deal favored by some business groups amounted to doing the bidding of corporate interests “who haven’t been very loyal to the (Republican) party anyway.”

“They have become the corrupt influence instead of fighting the corrupt influence,” he said of Republicans that cross party lines on such measures. “But, at the end of the day, if there’s a bunch of Republicans who have decided there’s a price to vote for cap and trade, the question is not whether they are prostitutes, it’s how much they want to get paid to provide their services.”

Despite the legislative concessions and endorsements from the California Chamber of Commerce and California Business Roundtable, Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes stressed that his caucus remains universally opposed to the current cap-and-trade bill following months of negotiations.

Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, one of 10 Republicans who met with Brown late Tuesday, said he and his colleagues have been consistent about what they want to see for more than a month. In an interview, Chávez said he likes the design of the proposed cap-and-trade market, and would certainly like to see the much-reviled fire fee scrapped for the life of the program.

But he’s concerned about the expenditure plan, and wants a “check-in” date around the halfway point, 2025, to allow Republicans to reinforce any changes to how the money is spent. Chávez said Republicans want more of the proceeds to go to agricultural businesses and a program aimed at preserving forests and preventing fires.

“I don’t think we are too far away,” Chávez said. “We could be there.”

Meanwhile, the backlash over the $5.2 billion-a-year transportation package remains fresh in lawmakers’ minds. The gas tax, which Brown signed into law in April, prompted a recall petition against freshman Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, and has proven unpopular with voters.

Democrats, particularly those in moderate districts, fear a vote in favor of the bill could come back to haunt them during election season. Given industry’s support for the measure, they want lawmakers on the opposite side of the aisle to step up and support the program. A bipartisan accord on the measure also gives Democrats cover from GOP campaign attacks.

Newman said he’s still mulling over the legislation. Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, plans to vote “no” unless several Assembly Republicans come aboard, his office said.

Senate leadership is attempting to negotiate with at least three Republicans – Sens. Anthony Cannella, Scott Wilk and Tom Berryhill – to provide insurance votes in case Democrats refused to back the bill. Cannella, who provided a critical “yes” vote on SB 1, and Berryhill declined to sign a letter the other 11 members of the Senate Republican Caucus sent Brown on listing their myriad concerns. A spokesman for Cannella said he’s opposed to the bill. Wilk signed a letter expressing his concerns about the legislation. Berryhill declined to discuss his stance on the legislation.

The enticements in the bill were not enough to win over Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills. He’s tried nearly a half dozen times to repeal, or lessen the impact of, the fire fee.

“I think the issues should be dealt with separately,” Gaines said, citing concerns about the possibility of rising gas prices.

“Business is trying to negotiate the best deal they can,” he added, “but it shouldn’t be on the backs of the poor and middle class in California.”

The deal Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders in the Legislature made to extend the state's cap-and-trade system to battle climate change has many elements, including some to win Republican votes.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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