Capitol Journal: With new climate legislation, Gov. Brown gets even with the oil industry

American flags fly near the Shell refinery in Martinez, Calif.
American flags fly near the Shell refinery in Martinez, Calif.
(Ben Margot / AP Photo)

Gov. Jerry Brown got mad and one year later has gotten even with the oil lobby.

It’s a textbook example of what can happen in a representative democracy when a leader is willing to settle for realistic goals. It’s what results when one doesn’t get too greedy and agrees to compromise.

It’s also symptomatic of one-party control. Dominant Democrats in Sacramento hang together more often than not, and that produces victories when only a simple majority vote is required. And that’s usually.

Republicans these days are mostly irrelevant in California’s Capitol. And they could be even more extraneous after the November election if GOP legislative candidates pay a penalty of lost seats for their party’s nomination of an ill-mannered, narcissist numbskull for president.


But back to Sacramento. We’re talking here about what had been the expiring legislative session’s biggest, most contentious final issue — at least the one it was addressing: climate change and Brown’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

It’s the governor’s passion, even more so seemingly than his two costly, controversial construction projects: the bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco and tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Fellow Democrats in the Assembly handed Brown an unexpected triumph Tuesday when they passed a major anti-global warming bill.

The governor, in contrast with his normally staid style concerning pending legislation, immediately issued a brief public statement lambasting what he called “big oil.”

Brown lauded the Assembly for “rejecting the brazen deception of the oil lobby and their [Donald] Trump-inspired allies who deny science and fight every reasonable effort to curb global warming.”

The Assembly passed the bill with only one vote to spare. But after its passage was announced by the presiding officer, other legislators added their essentially meaningless support so the final official count was 49-30. Few politicians want to be called climate deniers.

The measure, SB 32 by veteran Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), extends California’s landmark 2006 anti-global warming act to 2030. It was scheduled to expire in 2020.

Importantly, it increases the act’s goals. The old goal was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. That essentially already has been achieved. The new target is to lower emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.


The Senate approved Assembly amendments Wednesday and sent the bill to Brown.

But SB 32 wouldn’t have passed unless Brown also had agreed to sign a compromise companion, AB 197 by freshman Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella). That bill seeks to rein in the state Air Resources Board, a regulatory body most lawmakers think badly needs legislative constraint. The ARB administers the global warming act.

More than anything, however, the lawmakers’ insistence on the companion measure illustrated the traditional rivalry between the legislative and executive branches.

Garcia’s bill will create a legislative global warming oversight committee to keep an eye on the ARB, although there’s nothing currently that prevents existing panels from doing that. The measure also will require the air board to emphasize emission reductions in poor and polluted communities, and to share more information with the Legislature.


The Senate passed that bill 23 to 13 Monday. And the Assembly, not waiting around, sent it to the governor Wednesday on a 44-28 vote.

Brown, flanked by the bills’ authors and Democratic legislative leaders, said Wednesday afternoon that he will sign both measures, not giving the oil lobby any time to bombard him with bombast.

“There’s a lot of Trump acolytes walking the halls of the Capitol,” Brown told reporters, referring to oil lobbyists.

And in another jab at the tweet-obsessed Trump, Brown asserted that legislating “is not like Twitter. You don’t do it with 140 characters.”


Brown was crowing and you couldn’t blame him.

Updates from Sacramento »

Last year at this time, the Assembly’s moderate Democrats — many bankrolled politically by business interests — rebuked their governor at the oil lobby’s behest.

They rejected Brown’s more ambitious proposal to cut petroleum use in half by 2030. He did manage to pass legislation to double the energy efficiency of older buildings and gradually generate half of California’s electricity from renewable sources.


The “mods,” as they’re called, also last year forced Pavley to abandon her effort to reduce greenhouse emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. For many, planning 35 years ahead was ridiculous.

“Oil has won the skirmish,” Brown conceded to reporters last summer. “But they’ve lost the bigger battle. Because I am more determined than ever….

“I have no intention of backing down.”

But he did back off slightly and strategically, enough to pass the Pavley bill and maintain his reputation as the nation’s No. 1 governor trying to save the planet.


Sometime before Brown is forced from office by term limits at the end of 2018, he’ll need to solidify the air board’s controversial cap-and-trade program. With it, the state peddles permits to emit greenhouse gasses and pours 25% of the profit into keeping Brown’s bullet train project rolling.

But cap and trade has fallen on hard times. That’s largely because the California Chamber of Commerce has sued, arguing that it amounts to a tax and should require a two-thirds legislative vote. It passed only with a simple majority. Consequently, pollution permit sales are now producing only a piddling.

“We can talk about cap and trade at another time,” Brown said Wednesday.

For now, he can savor the win. It wasn’t all he wanted. But, as with any sport, a “W” is a “W.”


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