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California Democrats extend state’s signature cap-and-trade program

A renewal of Governor Jerry Brown's climate initiative has passed both the state Senate and Assembly. California's carbon reduction goal is one of the world's most aggressive mandates


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SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California’s signature initiative to fight global warming will get another decade of life after lawmakers from both parties joined Gov. Jerry Brown in extending the law credited with reducing the state’s carbon footprint.

Monday night’s votes to renew California’s cap-and-trade program bolsters the Democratic governor’s quest to portray the state as a leader in the fight against climate change. One Republican in the Senate and seven in the Assembly joined a majority of Democrats to back the bill.

The program would have expired in 2020 if lawmakers didn’t renew it.

Members from both parties noted the contrast with Washington, where Republicans have struggled to pass legislation and have taken a skeptical view of regulations to combat greenhouse gases.

The bill passed over the objection of some environmentalists who said it fails to aggressively combat pollution. It now heads to Brown’s desk.

This legislation has global implications as the largest U.S. state moves to be a leader in reducing carbon emissions at a time when President Donald Trump is pulling back from fighting global warming.

“It is more important than ever for California to send a crystal clear message to the world that that does not represent all Americans,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat.

But the plan has also mobilized intense opposition from conservatives who say it will raise costs in an already expensive state as well as from liberals who say it’s too timid for progressive California.

Cap and trade puts a limit on carbon emissions and requires polluters to obtain permits to release greenhouse gases. Some permits, known as allowances, are given away while others are auctioned, generating billions of dollars in revenue for the state.

Brown sounded an apocalyptic tone in a rare personal appeal before a Senate committee last week, telling lawmakers that failing to pass the extension would lead to fires, disease and mass migration, not to mention higher costs for food and gasoline.

Republicans likened the bill to a tax that will hit Californians at the gas pump and the grocery store. The nonpartisan legislative analyst said last year that the existing cap and trade program accounted for an 11-cent-per-gallon increase in gasoline prices. The office has not analyzed the program’s extension.

“We could shut down the entire state of California and it would have absolutely no effect on the global climate,” said Sen. Andy Vidak, a Republican from Hanford in the agricultural Central Valley. “But what is measureable is the effect this tax will have on the poorest of the poor in my district and across California.”

Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte was the only Senate Republican to support the legislation.

The bill has the support of national environmental groups and business interests, which echo Brown’s refrain that cap-and-trade is the most affordable way for California to meet its ambitious climate goals.

State law requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030—among the most aggressive mandates for carbon reduction in the world.

Without cap-and-trade, state regulators will be forced to enact restrictive mandates on polluters that would be burdensome for businesses and significantly more expensive for consumers, Brown said.

The legislation shows the divisions between environmentalists who work nationally, focusing on reducing global carbon emissions and creating a policy that can be replicated elsewhere, and environmental justice advocates who work locally.

The latter group said cap-and-trade allows polluters to keep fouling the air around major sources of pollution like oil refineries and objected to concessions Brown made to the oil industry and other polluters in a bid to win support from Republicans and moderate Democrats.

Some lawmakers have questioned why Brown so urgently wanted to extend a program that doesn’t expire for another 2 1/2 years. Brown says extending it now gives businesses the certainty they need to plan.

The quick extension also bolsters Brown’s global advocacy for climate action. He made a high-profile trip to China last month, plans to attend a climate summit in Germany in November and will host a climate conference next year in San Francisco.


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