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Update: Tougher Greenhouse Gas Limits Move to Gov. Brown's Desk

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A view of wind turbines at the Kumeyaay Wind Project on the Campo Reservation outside of San Diego, California. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Update, 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24:

Lawmakers on Wednesday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a package of climate change legislation that he vowed to sign into law, capping weeks of uncertainty over the future of an issue that both legislative leaders and the governor consider among their top priorities.

Senate Bill 32 and Assembly Bill 197 would, together, set out much more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, give lawmakers more oversight over the controversial California Air Resources Board and direct the board to prioritize disadvantaged communities when setting rules that help reduce pollution.

"Today, California took another historic step forward to clean up our air and reduce harmful fuel emissions," said state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. "We showed, also, that we will not be intimidated. We carried out the will of the people of California who overwhelmingly want us to take action, and we are sending a very clear message to the state, the nation and the world that we are committed to our economy.

"We know that we can grow and prosper without poisoning our communities or the lungs of our children. and we have proof beyond question that there is indeed a better way," he said.


The portion of AB 197 that attempts to help low-income, highly polluted regions is a response to complaints that past environmental measures have mostly benefited already wealthy communities. Its inclusion, along with the increased legislative oversight of regulators, helped convince moderate Democrats and even a few Republicans to support the bill package.

“In passing SB 32, we drew up a road map. AB 197 is the vehicle that gets us there," said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Los Angeles. “Assembly Bill 197 provides the mechanisms to make sure the goals we set in SB 32 are reached. Greater legislative oversight, as well as agency accountability and data transparency from the Air Resources Board, will only make our climate change efforts benefit all Californians."

Gov. Jerry Brown has announced he supports the bills, calling them an “important milestone."
Gov. Jerry Brown has announced he supports the bills, calling them an 'important milestone.' (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

AB 197 attempts to help disadvantaged communities by directing the Air Resources Board to collect and publicly release more data and create regulations that would reduce pollution at the biggest "stationary" and "mobile" polluters -- i.e., industries and vehicles that could be harming those communities.

That led to charges that supporters were trying to move away from the state's cap-and-trade program, which lets big polluters buy the right to emit greenhouse gases, in favor of reducing emissions at their source, like at factories and in cars. While backers of the bills say that's not the case, the legislation doesn't specifically mention the state's cap-and-trade program, which has an uncertain future in part because it is being fought by business groups in court.

Brown called the bills an "important milestone," acknowledging the strong opposition to all of the state's climate change policies and laws by the oil industry and others.

"The passage of these bills gives legislative force to our goals for 2030. This is a real commitment backed up by real power as a result as the votes taken," he said. "And in many ways the struggle of the last few days is actually quite helpful because often people talk about clean air and global warming in a very abstract way, but the effort to decarbonize our economy in California and throughout the world is a tall hill that we are climbing. And there is opposition, and it is a struggle."

But Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, of Modesto, said the legislation will only exacerbate the "tale of two Californians" by continuing to pit poorer inland areas against wealthier coastal communities and destroying jobs.

"We all want cleaner air. My son has asthma, I get it -- we all want to work on policies that will improve the environment, but the question is at what cost?" she said. "And we have already seen thousands upon thousands of Californians hurt, middle-class families, hurt by the policies we have already passed. And we will be driving more people into poverty."

Original Post, Tuesday, August 23:

The Assembly on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 32, which would require California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. That’s a step up from the current law that requires emissions meet 1990 levels by 2020.

To get there, the state would focus on things like increasing the use of renewable energy and encouraging the use of electric vehicles.

Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) cast the issue as a moral one.

“In this context of climate change and global warming, you know we talk a lot about making sure we save polar bears," he says. "Well, I want to talk about saving children and making sure they don’t have to live with dirty air.”

A broader version of the bill failed in the Assembly last year, and the 2016 version still has many critics. Among them is Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Plumas Lake). He says the policy undercuts job-creating industries like trucking, construction and manufacturing.

“And everybody just likes to just pile it on the oil and gas industry. Those are good-paying jobs that employ a whole lot of people in this state," he says. "A heck of a lot more than any solar array company does.”

The bill faces a final vote in the Senate before it can go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who announced his support in a statement on Tuesday:

Yesterday, big oil bought a full-page ad in the capital city's newspaper of record to halt action on climate. Today, the Assembly Speaker, most Democrats and one brave Republican passed SB 32, rejecting the brazen deception of the oil lobby and their Trump-inspired allies who deny science and fight every reasonable effort to curb global warming.

I look forward to signing this bill – and AB 197 – when they land on my desk.

With these bills, California’s charting a clear path on climate beyond 2020 and we’ll continue to work to shore up the cap-and-trade program, reduce super pollutants and direct more investment to disadvantaged communities.

But SB 32 can take effect only if Assembly Bill 197, which would regulate the California Air Resources Board, is approved as well.

KQED reporter Marisa Lagos contributed to this report. 

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