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Lawmakers representing minority districts rally around Sen. Fran Pavley's climate bill

Lawmakers representing minority districts rally around Sen. Fran Pavley's climate bill
Valero's Wilmington refinery in 2010. Legislation by Sen. FranPavley (D-Agoura Hills) would put into law executive orders issued by Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Christina House / For The Times)

Looking to boost her climate bill in the waning days of the legislative session, state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) touted support from low-income and minority groups behind her measure to extend and tighten California's targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Climate change ... [has] disproportionate impacts to low-income communities," Pavley said at a news conference Tuesday morning. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know ... that on a warmer day, air quality worsens, asthma rates spike."

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Pavley's bill, SB 32, would put into law executive orders issued by Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It would require the state to reduce its emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 80% below those levels by 2050.

Pavley was joined Tuesday by Assembly members Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) and Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), both of whom represent districts with large minority populations.

"We do not have to be afraid of SB 32," Garcia said. "We can have the right thing for our health and for our pocketbooks."

Despite that support, the bill failed to pass in the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, with lawmakers rejecting the measure by a vote of 25 to 33. However, the legislation still could come up for reconsideration and be brought back to life.

Black and Latino lawmakers are at the heart of the tug of war around climate-change bills. Their districts tend to be heavily polluted but also poorer and wary of higher costs that could come with new regulations.

Pavley recently changed her bill to provide more legislative oversight of the state's powerful Air Resources Board, which has become a sticking point in climate negotiations with lawmakers.

Her amendments would require the board to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of policies it has pursued and give legislators more opportunity to offer guidance or input. Ridley-Thomas said such amendments allow lawmakers to communicate with regulators on "practical" ways to transition to lower emissions, such as relying on natural gas.

She also proposed adding one new member to the board, appointed by the Legislature, who would represent low-income communities.

That last change has been a top priority for lawmakers representing minority communities.

"We need someone that is from our community -- that actually lives in our community and knows what it's like to have bad air quality," said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, in an interview last week.

Jones-Sawyer and other lawmakers are seeking a similar provision to be inserted into another major climate-change bill, by Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), which would slash gasoline use on state roads and increase California's use of electricity generated by renewable energy.

Lawmakers at the news conference Tuesday kept their focus squarely on Pavley's bill, declining to wade into the debate around De Leon's bill.

But environmental advocates plugged both bills as necessary for low-income communities.

"We're asking our legislators of color to help make history. Be visionary and bold too," said Byron Ramos-Gudiel, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment. "The communities that you represent ... expect you to prioritize their needs and to get it right on climate and on the health of their communities."

Times staff writer Chris Megerian in Sacramento contributed to this report.

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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