Lawmakers made the right call in passing SB 32

Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer AP

Against fierce opposition from oil industry lobbyists, lawmakers in Sacramento made history this week. They took a bold stand to pass Senate Bill 32, extending California’s signature clean air law.

This was a victory for every person who breathes air or drinks water in the Golden State. Gov. Jerry Brown, our legislative leaders and the Democratic lawmakers who voted for this crucial bill deserve high praise. They stood up to the oil industry and truly served the public interest.

The passage of SB 32 was far from a sure thing. The oil industry spends millions of dollars every year to pressure state government to put its profit margins before the health of California’s people. The oil industry is one of the biggest moneyed influences in the state Capitol, spending more than $38 million on lobbying and campaign contributions since the start of 2015. Too often, their fear and pressure tactics succeed.

Last year, SB 32 stalled under a barrage of oil industry spending. This year, despite spending $6.4 million on lobbying in the first half of the year and flooding Sacramento with misleading ads, its strategy failed. Nineteen lawmakers who didn’t vote for SB 32 last year supported it this year.

They were not persuaded by sweet strains from woodwind instruments, as one legislator on the losing side suggested. They were responding to the increasingly urgent need to address pollution and climate change before it’s too late. They were recognizing the fact that the clean energy economy has already created 500,000 jobs in our state – and will create many more.

The passage of these bills comes at a critical time for our state. This summer, Southern California is suffering from the worst air pollution in years, and we’re seeing a spike in hospital admissions due to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Millions of trees are dying after years of severe drought, and wildfires have become more massive and intense as a result. Our firefighters are working overtime to stop these fires, which have destroyed homes and displaced families.

The direct consequences of pollution and climate change on our health and our lives have become clear, and this is no time for politics as usual. The legislators who voted for SB 32 took this to heart, and their vote was a display of powerful moral leadership.

It’s hard to believe anyone could vote against a bill as sensible as SB 32, but it was opposed by every Republican except one. This is an unfortunate regression, since it was a Republican governor – Arnold Schwarzenegger – who signed the original legislation, Assembly Bill 32. Just as Gov. Ronald Reagan signed CEQA into law, it was a Republican governor who began to forge California’s leadership position on climate change.

Pollution and climate change should not be partisan issues. They are human, health and economic issues. We have everything to gain by taking action – cleaner air and water, fewer kids with asthma, more jobs. And we have everything to lose if we put our heads in the sand.

SB 32 is a huge step forward, but we have more work to do. Sen. Ricardo Lara’s bill, SB 1383, would require California to slash “super pollutants” like black carbon, methane and fluorinated gases 40-50 percent by 2030. I hope our legislators will remain courageous and buck the oil industry’s opposition by voting yes.

SB 32’s passage gives Californians a reason to be optimistic, but it terrifies the oil industry. They want Sacramento to march to the beat of their oil drums. But given the crises of pollution and climate change, our leaders cannot serve both the public interest and Big Oil’s interests. They must choose between the two.

On SB 32, they made the right call.

Tom Steyer is founder of NextGen Climate.