Capitol Alert

Legislature’s attorney says Jerry Brown can’t set climate targets

Gov. Jerry Brown joined legislators and labor leaders to announce a landmark agreement that makes California the first state in the nation to commit to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour statewide on Mon., Mar. 28, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif.
Gov. Jerry Brown joined legislators and labor leaders to announce a landmark agreement that makes California the first state in the nation to commit to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour statewide on Mon., Mar. 28, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif. rbyer@sacbee.com

Gov. Jerry Brown exceeded his authority when he issued an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target for California last year, the Legislature’s attorney has told lawmakers.

In a letter to Senate Republican Leader Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, the state’s legislative counsel said Brown does not have the authority, without legislative approval, to extend beyond 2020 the provisions of Assembly Bill 32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction law.

Brown last year issued an executive order seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. But subsequent legislation stalled.

Can the cap-and-trade program be applied or used beyond December 31, 2020? Answer: No.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber

Brown, a fourth-term Democrat, has made climate change a priority of his administration. Following setbacks in the Legislature last year, amid resistance from Republicans and moderate Democrats, Brown vowed to move forward with climate change policies on his own.

But Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine’s opinion, dated Tuesday, suggests the significance of an ongoing, difficult effort by Democratic lawmakers to extend beyond 2020 the provisions of Assembly Bill 32 and its signature program, cap-and-trade, in which polluters pay to offset carbon emissions.

The law “does not authorize the (California Air Resources Board) or the governor to set an emissions limit after 2020 that is lower than” the 1990 target, Boyer-Vine wrote.

Gov. Jerry Brown, issuing an ominous appeal on climate change, spoke at a climate change conference in Vatican City on July 21, 2015, saying the world may already have “gone over the edge” on global warming and that humanity must reverse course o

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Gerber Republican who referenced the legislative counsel’s opinion at a committee hearing Thursday, said, “Can the cap-and-trade program be applied or used beyond December 31, 2020? Answer: No.”

Stanley Young, a spokesman for the ARB, said in an email that the administration does not agree with the legislative counsel’s legal assessment.

“While the 2020 limit is an important first step in measuring progress, climate change will not end in 2020 and AB 32 explicitly states the intent to ‘maintain and continue reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases beyond 2020,’” he said.

The hearing came as Brown left the state for the United Nations in New York to participate in events Friday related to the global climate agreement reached last year in Paris.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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