Feinstein, Boxer differ on global warming

Times Staff Writers

California’s two senators this week offered markedly different approaches to slowing global warming, with Dianne Feinstein saying she may move to exempt power companies from her home state’s landmark global warming laws and bring them under federal regulation instead.

Coal-fired and other fossil-burning power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States, producing a third of all emissions.

A draft of Feinstein’s bill included an exemption clause, but it was omitted before she introduced it Wednesday after protests from representatives of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, legislative leaders and some environmental groups.

In an interview Wednesday, however, Feinstein did not rule out adding it back at some point.


“I want to take another look,” she said.

Under the clause, power plants would be exempt from any state laws regulating greenhouse gases, including several in New England as well as California. Feinstein said she had removed it for now because “I know the environmentalists have concern.”

The bill she introduced, which deals just with the electricity sector, calls for a market-based cap and trade system. The bill would ratchet down electricity sector emissions 25% below projected levels by 2020.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, in contrast, has signed onto a bill introduced Tuesday that covers a wider spectrum of greenhouse gas sources, including motor vehicles, and would reduce U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The 2050 goal goes beyond what Feinstein’s legislation calls for. The Boxer bill has no mandatory cap and trade program.

Many environmentalists favor the approach Boxer is sponsoring because it is broader.

“Boxer’s bill is the gold standard,” Jason Barbose of Environment California said.

Feinstein intends to introduce several other bills in coming months that would also address global warming, her spokesman said.

Both senators are part of the Democratic majority, but Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and could play a key role in moving global warming legislation. Boxer called Feinstein’s bill -- one of many that have been introduced -- a “positive addition” to the debate and said Feinstein would be invited to discuss her bill with the committee.


While not commenting on the specifics of Feinstein’s original exemption provision, Boxer said, “I always fear preemption. I just don’t like preemption. I think it’s wrong. I have always felt if the state has a higher level of protection for the environment, let it go....I don’t like to see a state told you can’t have a stronger bill.”

California officials expressed more concern, saying preempting the state’s laws could add millions of tons more greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere. Schwarzenegger’s staff, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and other officials made calls to Feinstein in the last week asking her not to include the clause.

“Let me just be real, real clear,” said Nunez, author of Assembly Bill 32, the framework for the state’s global warming policies. “Getting AB 32 negotiated and approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor was no easy task.... It’s attracted worldwide attention, and it’s landmark legislation.... We will do everything we can to ensure that AB 32 is not watered down in any form by federal legislation. If we cannot do that, then obviously we’re going to have a serious problem.”

He said that a long conversation last week with Feinstein had left him optimistic, but that talks would continue.


Schwarzenegger said in an interview Tuesday, “It’s much better if the two work together, the federal government and the state, because we want to keep our very good law, AB 32, alive.” He added, “We want to shoot for ... 2020 and rolling it back to the 1990 levels.”

A senior Schwarzenegger administration official said that “we’ve had extensive discussions” with Feinstein, and that “she’s trying to be very careful to avoid preempting our efforts.”

But Feinstein said she wanted the opportunity to sit down with California officials and an electricity industry group that had endorsed her legislation to “really understand how a preemption would work ... whether it would impede California’s program or not. I don’t believe it would ... because the cuts [in emissions] are about the same.... I intend to personally sit in on this part of the negotiation and take another look at it.”

Asked whether that means she would consider preempting state laws as her bill and several others introduced in Congress move forward, Feinstein said, “I might consider anything, yeah, anything.”


A coalition of six electric companies endorsed the bill Feinstein introduced on Wednesday. The group includes PG&E; Corp., which has strongly backed California policies as well; Calpine Corp.; Entergy Corp.; Exelon Corp.; Florida Power & Light Co.; and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. Together the companies provide power to 26 million customers in several states.

PG&E; President Peter A. Darbee, who joined Feinstein at her Capitol Hill news conference, called the bill a “pragmatic, aggressive” response to a serious problem. “We’re proud to support it -- just as we supported California’s landmark climate law.

“Adopting legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions at the federal level is the greatest way of efficiently addressing climate change, and a necessary step in positioning the U.S. as a global leader on environmental issues,” Darbee said.

Feinstein said the companies pushed for a preemption clause.


“Their thinking is to have a level playing field throughout the United States so that this thing can work easily across boundaries,” Feinstein said. “We had language, and I just decided, ‘Let’s hold up on it because I don’t know enough about it’ ... and they have agreed to that.”

Nunez said his staff had done an analysis of the proposed preemption and found that “it is hurtful. It would increase our carbon output in California by millions of metric tons.”

Feinstein’s office provided an analysis that it said showed that her bill would result in an 11% to 12% cut in national electric sector emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, while AB 32, sponsored by Nunez and signed by Schwarzenegger, would result in a 15% reduction in California emissions over the same period.

Some environmentalists were sharply critical of Feinstein for even considering preemption.


“I think it’s incredibly troubling” that Feinstein would consider limiting her state’s laws, said Emily Figdor, a clean air and energy advocate with Environment California’s Washington office.

“California for the last four decades has been at the forefront of reducing air pollution in this country, and has shown the critical importance of being able to try things out at the state level ... with policies that eventually are adopted nationwide,” she said.


Times staff writer Jordan Rau contributed to this report.