Capitol Alert

Will cap and trade survive Capitol politics?

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, the author of Assembly Bill 617, left, and Gov. Jerry Brown, right, testified it at the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on July 13, 2017.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, the author of Assembly Bill 617, left, and Gov. Jerry Brown, right, testified it at the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on July 13, 2017. rbyer@sacbee.com

After months of speculation, and weeks of intense negotiations to secure a compromise package, lawmakers are scheduled to take up an extension of the state’s signature climate change program today. The complex system, know as cap and trade, is a market-based approach that began as a Republican idea.

In California, which views itself as an environmental laboratory for the world, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing cap and trade to help meet the state’s ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets – 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Brown wants a decision this week, before lawmakers head off on a monthlong recess.

The program, which would delegate a considerable amount of influence to the state Air Resources Board, requires polluters to obtain permits for the greenhouse gases they emit. Emissions are capped, and companies can trade for more capacity through a state-run auction or on the private market. The proceeds go to programs meant to reduce emissions.

The proposed legislation being voted on, Assembly Bill 398 by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, would extend the program until 2030. AB 617, a separate measure on air quality from Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, was added to the mix amid concern from a rising group of environmentalists worried about low-income communities that historically have struggled with pollution.

Brown, who recently traveled to China and is viewed as a counterweight to Donald Trump’s international backpedaling on climate change, met back home with a broad range of individuals in the lead-up to the legislation.

Talks began heating up after the Assembly, where a large bloc of moderates with compassion for industry concerns about increasing costs of their operations, beat back Cristina Garcia’s Assembly Bill 378 in June. Brown and supporters of an extension set about to craft a package that could win over two-thirds of the Legislature – 54 Assembly votes and 27 in the Senate.

What emerged was a cap-and-trade measure that drew criticism from the right, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the left, led by environmental justice activists.

Still, it has won endorsements from the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, as well as the California Chamber of Commerce, California Business Roundtable and Bay Area Council. The measure would allow the Air Resources Board to decide the maximum cost of emissions, known as a price ceiling, and auction reserve prices. Companies could continue to use offset credits to meet their total compliance obligations, but limit them over time.

Last week in a Senate committee, Brown foreshadowed a dystopian world of mass migrations, unchecked vector diseases and Southern California engulfed in wildfires if climate change goes unchecked and the state vacates its standing as a global environmental leader by letting the program expire. He also appealed to business groups by arguing that any alternatives to cap and trade would be more burdensome and costly.

Brown told lawmakers Thursday, “This is the most important vote of your life.”

On Friday, there were signs of an emerging legislative coalition: Republican Assembly leader Chad Mayes proposed a constitutional amendment that could help win GOP support by giving the minority party more say over how the program’s revenues are spent. An amendment to the main bill would expand the scope of its tax breaks for manufacturers and power companies, which supporters said would support more small businesses. It had already included a suspension of the state’s fire prevention fee, a controversial charge on 850,000 rural property owners.

Both Garcias appeared on a call with reporters Saturday to help calm the anxieties of some environmentalists. Concluded Cristina Garcia: “While none of us got everything, all of us are collectively in a better place.”

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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WORTH REPEATING: “This isn’t for me. I’m going to be dead. It’s for you. And it’s damn real.”

– Gov. Jerry Brown, acknowledging younger audience members as he urged approval of his climate change package.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Jerry Brown addressed the Senate Environmental Quality Committee last Thursday.

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CANNABIS TALKS: The California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce is holding a lunch event at 11:30 a.m. today at the University of the Pacific’s Sacramento campus to discuss marijuana regulations following approval of a budget trailer bill, Senate Bill 94, and Proposition 64. Notable speakers include Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, Amber Morris, branch chief of the California Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing, and Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association. Tickets are $20 for members and $40 for non-members.

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINIATION: The state Fair Employment and Housing Council is meeting to consider regulations regarding national origin discrimination, gender-neutral facility signs, discriminatory land use and harassment in housing. The meeting is set for the California Public Utilities Commission auditorium in San Francisco at 10 a.m.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: The state’s Strategic Growth Council will meet today at the California Environmental Protection Agency to discuss its final draft guidelines for the Affordable Housing and Sustainability Communities Program for 2016-2017. The program funds affordable housing development, capital infrastructure projects, transit capacity, bike lanes and green space.

Alexei Koseff of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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