Capitol Alert

Lawmakers send Jerry Brown scaled-back climate change measure

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, center, answers a question concerning a pair of environmental measures before the Legislature, during a news conference,Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, in Sacramento.
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, center, answers a question concerning a pair of environmental measures before the Legislature, during a news conference,Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, in Sacramento. AP

After Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders suffered major setbacks on climate bills earlier this week, lawmakers on Friday sent a less sweeping greenhouse gas reduction measure to the governor.

“Taking carbon out of the modern economy requires heroic efforts and tireless struggle,” Brown said in a statement. “We have the technological means and now we have the legal mandate to reduce carbon pollution.”

In votes whose broad margins belied the intense struggle that came before, lawmakers approved what remained of Senate Bill 350 after the bill was stripped of a proposal to require a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in motor vehicles by 2030. The Senate approved the measure 26-12 and Assembly members advanced the narrowed measure on a 51-26 vote, with Republicans David Hadley and Catharine Baker voting aye.

If signed by Brown, as expected, the bill will require California to increase to 50 percent from one-third the proportion of electricity the state derives from renewable sources and would seek to double energy efficiency in natural gas and electricity use.

“A future built on fossil fuels is quite simply a future built on shifting sands,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. “So that’s why I ask my colleagues to reach. To reach. Let’s reach for the stars.”

The abandonment of the petroleum provision of SB 350 followed intense lobbying by California’s oil industry and resistance from moderate Democrats in the Assembly. Brown has said he and the California Air Resources Board will use their existing authority to pursue emission-reduction programs on their own.

Debate in both houses split between backers who called the measure a needed corrective to the shocks of climate change and critics who argued that, even with the petroleum mandate gone, it would drop a heavy burden on the poorest Californians by raising energy costs.

“The fact is that we can and will and must meet these targets in order to provide for a life for our children that’s one that we can be proud of, that we can leave that as a legacy,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, who voted for the bill.

“You and I, we might be able to afford a fifty dollar increase in our utility bill, but what about the people just barely making ends meet?” asked opponent Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield. “Halle Berry can afford this policy,” she added, referencing the celebrity having lobbied at the Capitol for the bill, “but the people in my district...they can’t.”

Frustration from lawmakers about the California Air Resources Board’s far-reaching power played a central role in negotiations over the failed petroleum measure – and reared up again on Friday, airing publicly as lawmakers approved a late-hour bill to alter the makeup of the controversial board.

The proposal would add two members, appointed by legislative leaders, to a board that currently consists of 12 members appointed by the governor. The two additional members would be required to be people who work directly with low-income, minority or other groups most vulnerable to high levels of pollution.

The proposal was written into Assembly Bill 1288, by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, which was initially designed to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program beyond a 2020 sunset. Language concerning cap-and-trade was stripped from the bill.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert David Siders and Alexei Koseff contributed to this report.

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