Far-reaching climate bills warrant approval

Traffic jams are a major source of greenhouse gas pollution, and a key target for new environmental goals.
Traffic jams are a major source of greenhouse gas pollution, and a key target for new environmental goals. The Sacramento Bee

Forgive us if we’ve become jaded about oil industry claims that California as we know it will collapse if the Legislature approves bills aimed at further curbing emissions of greenhouse gas.

Time and again, the state and the industry have survived efforts to address the all-too-real prospect of global warming. Now Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s Senate Bill 350 seeks to add a trio of aggressive solutions: reduce petroleum use by 50 percent within 15 years, require that utilities increase their portfolio of renewable power to 50 percent by 2030, and impose greater energy efficiency standards on buildings.

Sen. Fran Pavley’s SB 32 would add motivation, extending existing goals to require that greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Though the measures almost certainly will be refined in the final two weeks of the legislative session, we urge legislators to support the bills.

Clearly feeling threatened, the oil industry, represented by the Western States Petroleum Association, is condemning SB 350 in a disingenuous ad campaign warning that the state could ration gasoline, ban minivans, and impose Big Brother-like reviews of individuals’ driving habits to monitor gas use.

The ads are like déjà vu all over again. Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, has a poster of the late car salesman Cal Worthington and his dog Spot claiming in 2002 that terrible, horrible things would befall motorists if lawmakers approved her Assembly Bill 1493 to limit tailpipe emissions.

Despite the dire predictions, lawmakers took the side of cleaner air, and Californians still motor around in SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks. The difference is that they run cleaner and get better gasoline mileage, and will get better mileage in years to come.

President Barack Obama embraced the concept of Pavley’s bill and extended it nationally in 2011. As a result, vehicles sold in the United States will average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, double the current 27 miles. Another happy outcome is that automakers continue to refine hybrid technology and electric vehicles.

In 2002, The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board urged legislators to back Pavley’s bill: “The world’s leading scientists have concluded that global warming is responsible for higher temperatures, shrinking glaciers, diminished snowpacks and longer, more severe droughts,” we wrote then. All that remains true today, only more so.

Then, as now, a clique of moderate Assembly Democrats stood with the oil and auto industries and Assembly Republicans in an attempt to block the measure. At least nine Assembly Democrats voted against it or ducked the vote, which nearly killed the bill. They were on the wrong side of history. Legislators who are wavering today should ask themselves how they will want to be remembered in 2030.

An Assembly staff analysis of SB 350 notes that regulations already in place likely will reduce petroleum consumption in California by between 31 percent and 41 percent by 2030.

“The real question is how much more needs to be done to achieve 50 percent by 2030,” the analysis says, suggesting the reductions won’t be a heavy lift.

That’s not to say SB 350 is milquetoast. They set ambitious goals, far more so than steps being taken in other states or by Congress. The Legislature should be prepared to modify details if they prove to be unworkable, and lawmakers seem to have gotten that message.

De León, a Los Angeles Democrat, floated amendments last week to place members of the Legislature on the California Air Resources Board to provide greater oversight. He also suggests that once the air board develops a plan to reduce petroleum use, legislators give themselves a year’s breathing room to modify it or take no action, in which case the regulators would proceed.

And to allay concerns raised by the oil industry ad campaign, de León is agreeing to bar the air board from rationing gasoline, banning vans or other vehicles, and imposing special fees on motorists.

More could be done in one or both of the bills:

▪ The Legislature must ensure that new building standards don’t create huge new expenses that worsen the shortage of affordable housing.

▪ Central Valley food processors provide solid jobs and nutritious food. The Legislature and regulators must ensure that air requirements don’t force them to relocate to other states or countries where standards are weaker.

▪ Transparency is important. CALmatters, a new online journalism publication, reported last month that for all the state’s efforts to combat climate change, “California officials do not know how much their climate rules have cost or saved.” That’s unacceptable. The state needs to document and make public the impact of its actions.

▪ Lawmakers should give consideration to a version of legislation by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, which would authorize the use of cap-and-trade funds to increase trucks’ use of natural gas. Although it’s a fossil fuel, natural gas is cleaner and cheaper than diesel and could serve as a bridge until better alternatives are developed. Pavley, hardly a shill for industry, is among the supporters of the notion.

We all depend on oil and the internal combustion engine. That dependence will last long into the future. For the sake of that future, however, we must reduce our collective use of carbon.

Oil company profits might be affected if California succeeds in its efforts to expand its fight against climate change, especially if the policies spread to other states and nations, as they should. But change in this state is a constant. Like other industries that have been disrupted, oil might need to adapt.