Capitol Alert

California Republicans seek cap-and-trade exemption for fuels

A woman leans on her car as she fill her auto at the Chevron gas station on Watt Ave and Fair Oaks Blvd on January 13, 2010 in Sacramento, Calif.
A woman leans on her car as she fill her auto at the Chevron gas station on Watt Ave and Fair Oaks Blvd on January 13, 2010 in Sacramento, Calif.

Returning to an issue that has divided legislative Democrats and permeated campaigns, Republicans on Monday announced a pair of bills preventing California’s cap-and-trade program from expanding to cover oil and gas.

A sweeping 2006 law aimed at reducing carbon emissions launched a system requiring industries to purchase permits covering what they put into the air. Producers of transportation fuels have yet to be required to buy permits, but that will change on Jan. 1.

With oil companies and the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office warning of a spike in gas prices, a group of Democrats last year sent a letter to the California Air Resources Board urging a delay. While a bill doing so never got a hearing, the industry bankrolled advertisements during the election slamming candidates who support cap-and-trade.

Republican lawmakers chose the first day of the 2015-2016 legislative session to announce their bill. Speaking before new members were to be sworn in to the Legislature, they said inaction would reverse low gas prices and burden individual drivers, businesses, schools and farms.

“We are all becoming accustomed to the free market working well with respect to the price of oil and natural gas and gasoline, and we are seeing some of the lowest prices for gasoline,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, “and yet, come January, the state of California is going to ratchet up those costs.”

A price increase would particularly hit residents of larger, often rural districts who must drive long distances to get to school and work, lawmakers said.

“In many if not most areas of California, alternative transportation choices simply don’t exist,” said Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.

The bills would go further than what Democrats backed last year. Legislation by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, would have delayed putting transportation fuels under the program. The Republican proposal would keep oil and gas out permanently.

While Republicans are unified in their opposition the the policy and numerous centrist Democrats have objected, Democratic leaders in both the Senate and the Assembly have reaffirmed their support for staying the course and letting the cap-and-trade system proceed as planned. Gov. Jerry Brown also opposes changes.

Despite that hurdle, Republicans said they will gain traction as constituents encounter higher gas prices and start pressuring their elected representatives. The fact that 16 Democrats signed a letter criticizing cap-and-trade signals growing bipartisan discontent with the program, Patterson said.

“Our guess is that that number of 16 will grow,” Patterson said.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.