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Climate plan's advocates win a victory on Tuesday, but the Capitol fight isn't over

Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), who urged assmeblymembers to pass SB 32. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), who urged assmeblymembers to pass SB 32. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Advocates for California's sweeping climate change law scored a major victory Tuesday when the Assembly approved a measure to extend the state's goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But they're not breathing easy just yet.

Deep in the bill language of SB 32 by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) is a sentence that links its fate to another climate bill yet to be approved by the Assembly:

"This act shall become operative only if Assembly Bill 197 of the 2015–16 Regular Session is enacted and becomes effective on or before January 1, 2017."

That bill, by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), would increase legislative oversight of the California Air Resources Board, which implements much of the state's climate policy. It also has language that makes it contingent on Pavley's bill. In legislative parlance, the two are "double-joined" and must both be signed into law to take effect.

Oil companies have been increasingly focused on Garcia's bill, which includes a provision requiring the agency to focus more on slashing emissions from local refineries and manufacturers. One industry lobbyist said such a shift in focus would undermine the state's cap-and-trade system, in which businesses purchase permits in order to pollute.

Backers of Garcia's bill say nothing in the measure rules out the cap-and-trade system. But the oil industry's focus on AB 197 signals a two-for-one strategy: If they can prevent the bill from passing, they effectively can sink both measures.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) made a point to tout Garcia's bill as a crucial companion to the bill approved today. 

"Certainly our caucus understands that AB 197 is really about reform," Rendons said. "It’s really about oversight, it’s really about accountability. These are the types of things that we’ve been talking about as a caucus, as a Legislature, for some time."

In the waning days of the legislative session, when parliamentary maneuvers are at their most creative, there may be ways to de-couple the two bills. Nevertheless, as SB 32 heads back to the friendlier Senate for final approval, keep an eye on Garcia's bill as the key climate focal point in the Assembly.

This post was updated at 2:48 p.m. to include comments from Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

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