Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown, Democrats reach deal to spend cap-and-trade funds

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Carbon Neutrality Initiative on the campus of UC San Diego on Aug. 23.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Carbon Neutrality Initiative on the campus of UC San Diego on Aug. 23. The Associated Press

Dangling the carrot at the end of cap-and-trade’s stick, Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders announced they’ve reached a deal to spend $900 million in revenue from the climate program.

Both the Senate and the Assembly moved swiftly to approve the plan, authorizing a long-sought deal proclaimed on the final day of the 2016 legislative session.

Brown and the leadership recently claimed a breakthrough as the Legislature approved measures to extend the clean air targets that allow the state’s ambitious suite of climate change policies. One of those policies, cap and trade, requires polluters to buy permits for the greenhouse gases they emit.

As legislators have faced pressure to bolster the climate program, many have asked that their districts see something in return. A large pot of cap-and-trade revenue has remained unspent, and lawmakers – particularly moderate Democrats representing lower-income districts – have sought to ensure some of those dollars flow to their constituents.

“We need help in the Inland Empire,” Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, said during a floor debate on the measure. “I have been hollering loud about what we are not getting.”

That struggle underlay the deal announced on Wednesday. In a statement, Brown nodded to benefits for struggling parts of the state.

“California’s combating climate change on all fronts and this plan gets us the most bang for the buck,” Brown said. “It directs hundreds of millions where it’s needed most – to help disadvantaged communities, curb dangerous super pollutants and cut petroleum use – while saving some for the future.”

A program offering rebates to help low-income Californians buy cleaner cars would get an $80 million infusion, as would projects bringing green spaces to urban areas. Another $140 million would be available for grants to communities with high rates of pollution.

“It moves in the right direction,” said Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, who has sought to expand the share of money set aside for disadvantaged areas. “It’s not perfect. When it’s about resources, people always want more, but we need to be sure we have enough going to low-income communities throughout the state.”

While the measure passed the Assembly floor on a 47-26 vote, some members argued it ignored the most effective policies for reducing greenhouse gases.

“Many of the programs funded in this bill are amongst the least efficient programs in developing greenhouse gas emissions ... this is a violation of the trust that the taxpayers of California placed in us,” said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake, denouncing what he called “an appalling lack of transparency” in the deal emerging to get a vote on the final day of session.

After the deal was announced, resistance immediately flared in response to a provision ensuring utilities get some electricity from biomass. Tens of millions of trees have died in California amid a withering drought, prompting Brown to declare a state of emergency. The biomass provision seeks to convert that deadwood into electricity.

“We’ve had drought, we have dead trees and they’re going to burn, so we’re trying to gather those up and put them in a biomass plant and have clean energy come out the other end,” said Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, whose largely rural district encompasses a swath of the Sierra littered with dead trees.

But environmentalists assailed the provision, arguing it would perpetuate a dirtier form of energy and sustain aging plants. Municipal utility officials argued it would increase costs for customers.

“Undoubtedly this will raise rates for people in Anaheim,” Moira Topp, a lobbyist for the city of Anaheim, told the Assembly Budget Committee. Anaheim is one of several cities in California that have their own electric utility.

Dairies could be affected as well, with the deal allocating $50 million to reduce methane from livestock. The dairy industry had fought emission-reduction mandates contained in a separate bill but switched to a neutral position as the legislative session neared its close.

The agreement, which has been in the works for months, leaves $462 million to spend in future years. Some other components:

▪ $133 million to the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, which subsidizes clean vehicle purchases, and $150 million for heavy-duty vehicles and off-road equipment investments.

▪ $135 million to the Transportation Agency for the Transit and Intercity Rail Program.

▪ $40 million to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, including: $25 million for the Healthy Forest Program and $15 million for urban forestry programs.

▪ $20 million to the Department of Community Services and Development for weatherization and renewable energy projects.

▪ $10 million to the Department of Transportation for the Active Transportation Program.

▪ $2 million to the Office of Planning and Research for the Strategic Growth Council to provide technical assistance to disadvantaged communities.

In giving final approval to a pair of linked climate bills, lawmakers on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016 handed a victory to Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders, who called the measures essential to preserving the state’s ambitious climat

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

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