Gas reduction dropped from California climate change bill

Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance on Sept. 8, 2015.

Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance on Sept. 8, 2015.

(Christina House / For The Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown faced a cascade of setbacks Wednesday as climate change legislation was stripped of his targets for reducing gasoline use, his effort to fix dilapidated roads was delayed, and there was no deal in sight to shore up funding for public healthcare.

It was an unusually rough day for the governor, who started his historic fourth term this year and typically gets his way in Capitol dogfights.

But Brown said he was undeterred. He pledged to redouble his efforts to fight climate change by slashing the amount of gasoline burned on California roads.


“Oil has won the skirmish. But they’ve lost the bigger battle,” he said at a Capitol news conference. “Because I am more determined than ever.”

Brown added, “We’re not going to miss a beat.”

The climate legislation included some of the biggest goals Brown outlined in his inaugural address in January. Without targets for reducing gasoline use, it has two parts remaining: increasing renewable energy production and boosting energy efficiency over the next 15 years.

The measure, which had passed the Senate with the gas target intact, is now expected to pass the Assembly and go to the governor for his signature.

Although supporters described the remaining provisions of the bill as landmark steps, they were clearly frustrated by their inability to persuade enough fellow Democrats to support the gas component.

“We reached for something grand,” said Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), author of the legislation. “But in the end, we could not cut through the multimillion-dollar smokescreen.”

Oil companies had launched a fierce opposition campaign to the measure, SB 350, including television and radio advertising across the state.

With the clock ticking toward the end of the regular legislative session Friday night, supporters tried to salvage the measure by proposing some limits on state air regulators’ power and making the gasoline goal more flexible.

But Brown said the oil industry and its allies wanted more changes than he was willing to make, and it was too important to preserve the authority of the California Air Resources Board, one of the leading agencies involved in pollution policies.

Board officials have said they could keep moving the state toward the gas reduction target with existing policies, such as reducing the carbon content of fuels, pursuing tighter vehicle efficiency standards and increasing mass transit.

Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno), who fought the gas part of the legislation along with several other Democrats in the lower house, said the bill was better off without it.

“We always wanted to say yes,” he said. “And now we’re going to get the opportunity to say that.”

Environmentalists were disappointed that the gasoline target was removed but buoyed by Brown’s determination.

“I’m feeling oddly encouraged,” said Kathryn Phillips of Sierra Club California, who has previously urged Brown to take a tougher line against the industry. “I have not heard the governor be as strongly committed to protecting Californians from the effects of oil.”

Other climate-related legislation is still hanging in the balance.

SB 32, sponsored by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), would codify in state law long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that were set in executive orders by Brown and his predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It, too, passed the Senate and is pending in the Assembly.

“We are still assessing how the Assembly wants to move forward,” Pavley said in a statement.

Meanwhile, no deal has been reached on paying for the repair of California’s dilapidated roads, another priority Brown set this year.

Because the governor called a special legislative session to address the issue, a deal is not necessary by Friday night, when lawmakers are required to finish their regular work for the year.

But advocates had hoped to have a plan in place before lawmakers adjourned. Now, Brown and legislative leaders say they’ll convene a special committee in hopes of hashing out a deal.

The governor wanted $3.6 billion in annual funding for road repairs, but Republicans refuse to provide the necessary support for the higher taxes and fees included in the plan. Some Democrats have resisted as well.

Business and labor groups hope new road money will help create jobs and promote economic development, and they balked at a slimmed-down, $1-billion proposal floated by Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly on Tuesday.

If lawmakers passed the smaller proposal, they feared, they wouldn’t revisit the issue and find a more substantive solution down the line.

“What was being contemplated wasn’t really going to fix anything,” said Jim Earp, executive consultant of the California Alliance for Jobs, which represents contractors and union workers.

Brown and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who has been trying to rally support for road repairs, pledged to ramp up the pressure.

“The roads are going to get fixed,” the governor said.

Resistance to new taxes has also caused problems for efforts to bolster healthcare funding, another issue that Brown has called a special session to address.

California currently imposes a tax on health plans with Medi-Cal patients, but the federal government has said the levy must be changed to affect all managed-care organizations. No deal has been reached in negotiations among lawmakers and health insurers.

Twitter: @chrismegerian

Times staff writers Melanie Mason and Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.


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