Capitol Alert

State Senate releases cap-and-trade spending plan

Kevin de León says he won't settle on climate change 'just to get it done'

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, on Aug. 3, 2016, describes talks on legislation to extend the state's emission targets beyond 2020.
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Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, on Aug. 3, 2016, describes talks on legislation to extend the state's emission targets beyond 2020.

A vehicle trade-in program for low-income families and projects in poor communities would be among the chief recipients of money from California’s cap-and-trade program under a Senate proposal unveiled on Wednesday amid an attempt to win enough votes to extend the climate program.

A large pot of money is sitting unused as lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown negotiate over the future of the program, which requires businesses to buy permits for the carbon they emit. Money from those auctions flows into a fund that can be used for projects to mitigate the environmental effects of greenhouse gases.

In the past, policymakers have set aside money for areas such as high-speed rail and affordable housing. Lawmakers have proposed using money on anything from port improvements to soil. Money has recently flowed to local projects such as a Sacramento streetcar. But Brown and lawmakers did not reach a deal on spending cap-and-trade money last year, and this year’s budget did not allocate any funds.

In the background, efforts to sustain California’s cap-and-trade program continue. After failing last year, a bill to preserve cap and trade by extending emissions reductions targets awaits a vote in the Assembly. It would need to win votes from centrist Democrats who have complained that climate-change programs have not benefited low-income Californians.

The last carbon-permit auction yielded around $10 million, a relatively paltry sum that cast doubt on the program’s stability. Regardless of cap and trade’s future, at present $1.4 billion remains available, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The plan announced by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, would spend $1.2 billion on areas that include transit ($100 million), rebates for purchasing clean vehicles ($100 million), and a program allowing low-income people to trade in old vehicles for more fuel-efficient ones ($150 million). That money could help California push toward a goal of slashing petroleum use after Brown, de León and allies dropped a plan to mandate a 50 percent reduction amid pushback from business-allied Democrats.

The proposal would also offer $100 million for energy-efficiency upgrades such as weatherization and $175 million to bring projects to impoverished communities. That, along with the money for low-income people to trade in vehicles, could appeal to moderate Democrats who complain that climate-change policies flow to wealthier parts of the state rather than benefiting poorer inland districts.

“Working families in our most economically disadvantaged and polluted areas deserve to benefit from investments now so they have access to the cleanest technologies and the tools to make their communities more livable,” de León said in a statement.

In addition, the bill would spend $100 million to combat so-called “short-lived climate pollutants,” gases such as methane with potent climate-altering effects. Such emissions have become a focus for Brown. Of that money, $55 million would be used to reduce methane from dairy and livestock, a concept the dairy industry has been fighting.

The Assembly has not yet released its own blueprint. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, released a statement vowing to approve a cap-and-trade spending plan this year and saying the lower house would consider de León and Brown’s ideas. He said the picture would become clearer next week when results of the most recent carbon-permit auction are released.

“Keeping cap-and-trade funds bottled up isn’t going to reduce the harm caused by greenhouse-gas emissions, so we need to get some of that money out the door to make progress,” Rendon said, emphasizing the need to ensure outlays “don’t overcommit or lead to cuts if funding dries up.”

Wednesday’s bill is linked to another measure, AB 1629, that will contain the policy details on how to spend the money contained in AB 1613. The amendments to AB 1629 have yet to emerge.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert Jim Miller contributed to this report. This post was updated at 1:43 p.m. to include Rendon’s statement.