Capitol Alert

California emissions reduction bill falters

A centerpiece of California's effort to expand the fight against climate change faltered on Tuesday, the first skirmish in an imminent end-of-session battle over an ambitious environmental plan sought by Democratic leaders.

Senate Bill 32 seeks to ramp up the state’s emission reduction goals by cutting greenhouse gases to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below the 1990 mark by 2050. Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, recently accepted amendments increasing the Legislature’s oversight of the Air Resources Board, the agency that would manage the cutbacks, by calling for legislative oversight hearings and authorizing the Legislature to modify or reject the ARB’s plan.

But those changes weren’t enough to budge a mass of Democrats who withheld their votes or voted against the bill outright as the measure stalled on a 25-33 vote, with 21 members abstaining, that featured no debate. The bill is eligible to come up for another vote.

“It says there’s some oversight here but it’s not yet there in substance,” said Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, who voted against the bill. “It’s a very high hurdle for the Legislature to weigh in on the policy.”

In an emailed statement, Pavley and Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, who presented the bill Tuesday, characterized the vote as hasty and premature, and said the measure would return for another vote.

“SB 32 was brought up today while many members were not on the floor and before several had a chance to review the recent amendments – so rather than rush ahead we decided to reconsider this bill later this week,” the lawmakers said. “The fight continues.”

With only three legislative days remaining, SB 32’s fate appears to be tied to that of Senate Bill 350, which would require California to derive half of its electricity use from renewable energy and to cut oil and gas consumption in half. Democratic legislative leadership and Gov. Jerry Brown continue to work to secure the votes of moderate Democrats amid an advertising and lobbying onslaught by oil companies opposed to both measures.

A Democrat who did not vote for SB 32, Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, said he was holding out for a broader deal that encompassed both bills.

“It’ll be coming back, and I’m looking for ways California’s disadvantaged communities can play a greater role in meeting some of our climate change policies,” Garcia said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the bill back with some modifications.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert