Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Half-baked carbon bill given rush

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, Calif. De Leon’s SB350 calls for boosting renewable energy use to 50 percent by 2030 and SB32, by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, right, calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels, by 2050.
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, Calif. De Leon’s SB350 calls for boosting renewable energy use to 50 percent by 2030 and SB32, by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, right, calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels, by 2050. AP

Why the big rush to pass Senate Bill 350?

We’re in the final fortnight of the legislative session and Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León are trying to nail down enough votes to “decarbonize” California in the next 15 years.

They say it will be a sweeping change in how Californians live, work and transport themselves. And yet they say it can be done easily, with minimal lifestyle disruptions and even economic benefits.

However, they offeronly broad indications of how it might be done, what it will cost and who will pay those costs.

A group of moderate Democrats in the Assembly has balked, demanding assurances that the bill’s stated 2030 goals, such as cutting petroleum-based gasoline use by 50 percent, won’t become an economic hardship, particularly on lower-income families.

They are leaning on Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who may be worried that her speakership is at risk, because she sent a message to Democrats last week asking that any move to name a new speaker be postponed until next year.

De León acknowledges that he must make some changes to placate the Assembly’s Democratic holdouts, but it’s unclear whether he can go far enough to satisfy them without losing his liberal base of support.

Again, what’s the rush?

Brown, de León and other decarbonization advocates are playing with the lives of what will be 45 million people in 2030, and they will be gone from the Capitol when whatever they decree becomes hard policy.

If SB 350 and its companion measure, Senate Bill 32, that would set new carbon-reduction goals for 2050, are worth doing, they are worth doing right. And the final hours of a legislative session tend to produce bad law.

Take, for example, what happened on the final day of the 1996 session. A major overhaul of electric power management and pricing, wrongly dubbed “deregulation,” was rushed into law after being drafted in private meetings of “stakeholders.”

Those in the meetings all got something, but the California public got the shaft and is still paying dearly in monthly utility bills for the exercise in political egotism and half-baked economic theory.

Some of those same stakeholders are involved in SB 350, and we’re once again getting their bland assurances that it will be a win-win, without adverse effects. But as with that 1996 electric power bill, the devil is in the details, and those details are once again being written behind closed doors without a full explanation of their real-world impacts.

Then-Gov. Pete Wilson and legislators involved in the 1996 energy bill patted themselves on the back when it was passed.

However, within a few years, California’s electric power system was on the verge of economic collapse from factors the legislation unwittingly created, and eventually it had to be repealed.

Is SB 350 being rushed into law without being fully baked so that Brown and de León can be celebs at the Paris conference on climate change later this year?

It’s a question that begs for an answer.

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