Gov. Jerry Brown was doing his best Tuesday to fill the vacuum created by Donald Trump’s abdication in the fight against climate change, while engaging in some important politicking.
Having just returned from a trip to China that was focused on climate policy, Brown brought together the prime minister of the island nation of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, and the governors of Oregon and Washington state, Kate Brown and Jay Inslee, to talk climate policy.
At a fancy lunch at the Governor’s Mansion, Bainimarama signed onto the Brown-inspired memorandum in which 170 states, provinces and nations promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Bainimarama, who will be presiding over the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year in Bonn, Germany, responded by bestowing a title on Brown –special adviser for states and regions – as the other governors and several legislators, including Republicans, looked on.
Tuesday’s pomp and symbolism aside, the governor has some serious climate-related business in the Capitol these days, gathering two-thirds votes in both houses of the Legislature to extend the cap-and-trade program beyond its presumed expiration in 2020. Money generated by the program would fund construction of high-speed rail, a project he champions. Without that funding, the next governor, who will be elected in 2018, might sour on it.
Democrats hold two-thirds majorities in both houses. But having voted in April to raise gasoline taxes and the vehicle registration fee by $5 billion a year to pay for road repairs, Democratic legislators are hesitant to vote for an extension of cap and trade, knowing that it, too, would raise prices at the pump.
That’s where Republicans come in. Although Republicans are irrelevant to many deals in the Capitol, they could prove to be pivotal on cap and trade. The oil industry, one of the California GOP’s most loyal sources of campaign donations, wants the program extended, understanding that the alternative – direct regulation of refinery emissions – would be far more costly.
Industry representatives have submitted 10 specific requests for any cap-and-trade deal. Boiled down, the industry wants to keep its costs down and gain flexibility to emit somewhat more carbon. The oil industry also would like to limit the authority of the California Air Resources Board and regional air boards, and have the Legislative Analyst’s Office take a more direct hand in the oversight of cap and trade. The LAO has issued reports that question the program.
Presumably, if Brown and the oil industry were to reach a compromise, some Republicans and moderate Democrats would be willing to vote to extend cap and trade. So several Republican legislators were feted at Tuesday’s lunch.
Answering a question by The Sacramento Bee’s Christopher Cadelago, Brown said Republicans would be “very key” to passing a new cap-and-trade program. The governor also noted that the mansion where they were gathered once was the home of Gov. Earl Warren, a Republican.
No piece of paper signed Tuesday will save the island nation of Fiji from being inundated by rising sea levels. Nor will a nice lunch get important legislation passed in Sacramento. But sometimes, a little pomp and symbolism can help create substance.