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CA Legislative Leaders Pull Gas Reduction Goals, Vow to Fight On

Governor Jerry Brown and Senate President Kevin de Leon explain the amendment to S.B. 350. Image: CAL Channel
Governor Jerry Brown and Senate President Kevin de Leon explain the amendment to S.B. 350. Image: CAL Channel
Governor Jerry Brown and Senate President Kevin de Leon explain the amendment to S.B. 350. Image: CAL Channel

Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro-Tem Kevin de Leon, and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins met with reporters late yesterday to announce that they would amend their signature climate change bill to eliminate the goal of reducing petroleum use. With only two days remaining before the legislative session ends, they say they don't have the votes to pass S.B. 350, the so-called “50-50-50” bill, with that provision.

The governor said last-minute negotiations bogged down on the question of how much authority the California Air Resources Board (ARB) should have. “If we agreed to turn every rule the ARB makes over to the legislature, then we could have had the bill,” he said. Instead, they cut out one of the goals in the bill.

Its other two provisions—increasing efficiency in buildings by fifty percent and increasing the proportion of renewable energy used in the state to fifty percent—will remain. Without the gas reduction goal, the chances of passing S.B. 350 are better. “There is strong support for S.B. 350,” said Atkins, “and I'm pretty sure we're going to be successful.”

According to Brown, this major amendment may not even be a serious setback. The ARB currently has the authority to create whatever fuel-reduction goals it wants, he said—including to fifty percent of what it is today, as originally called for by the bill. The only difference is that with this amendment, the goal would not be codified in law into the future.

When a reporter asked why the original bill was even necessary, Senator de Leon said "because Jerry Brown isn't going to be around forever."

De Leon said there was another irony in that the role of the ARB was outlined in the original bill, which created “opportunity for legislative review” of any rules it created. By removing all references to fuel use from the bill, “we will no longer have the opportunity to review the ARB's authority.”

Unfortunately, the amendment also removes language directing the ARB to include among its strategies "improving and expanding transportation choices to reduce driving." Logically this ought to be included as a strategy, along with alternative fuels and zero emission vehicles, but active transportation advocates will need to stay on policy makers to make sure it happens.

All three leaders promised to continue fighting to reduce oil use in California.

“My zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree, and nothing, nothing is going to dissuade us,” said Brown.

“We don't expect to win every skirmish,” said Brown. “This is a big goal. It's a heroic objective, and it's very real. What's at stake is a fundamental turn in the way the economy functions.”

“Our resolve has not wavered one iota,” said de Leon, calling the setback a “temporary disconnect in politics that needs to be resolved.”

“In the end, we cannot cut through the smokescreen of a single interest group [that has] a bottomless war chest,” said de Leon, dismissing a well-funded oil company campaign against the bill as a product of “the silly season of scare tactics.”

The fuel reduction goal was re-interpreted in oil company hit ads as handing the ARB the authority to mandate rationing and charge fines for people who use too much fuel. But S.B. 350 only set the goal of reducing gas use in California by fifty percent, leaving it up to the ARB to find ways to do it, including improving and expanding zero-emission vehicles, low-carbon fuels, and transportation choices other than driving.

Decreasing fuel use, naturally, would be a problem for oil industry profits. “When we say we're going to cut the sales of the most powerful industry in the state, [of course] there would be some resistance,” said Brown. “We depend on oil. Oil is the heart of modern prosperity-- and yet it has a very destructive impact. We have to move off it.”

The remaining goals of the bill are still ambitious. “There's not one state in the union that's even close to California's already-achieved thirty percent [renewable energy standard],” said de Leon, “and we're aiming for fifty percent.”

Environmental advocates were disappointed but also optimistic. Amanda Eakin of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote, "It's a sad day when oil industry lies stand in the way of clean air, but if the industry thinks they have won a victory, it will be short-lived. California's leadership and communities across the state are more determined than ever to reduce petroleum dependence."

"Governor Brown, Pro Tem de Leon, and Speaker Atkins today rejected a bum deal to roll back California's existing authority to set standards for cleaner cars, cleaner fuels, and cleaner communities. . . . Left intact are historic milestones to increase California's share of renewable energy to fifty percent and double energy efficiency savings statewide by 2030."

Kathryn Phillips of the Sierra Club had a similar reaction, writing that "It’s unfortunate that the oil companies prevailed this year by relying on lies and deception, stirring fear that the oil portion of S.B. 350 would make it impossible for Californians to thrive. What we have all learned from this experience is how ruthless the oil companies are. They will always put profits ahead of truth and public health."

But, she wrote, “the rest of S.B. 350 remains intact and will move California forward on clean electricity and energy efficiency.”

At the press conference, the Governor chided the reporters in attendance for not writing enough about climate change. “Now we have conflict, and conflict is news," he told them. "We've got a big brouhaha and the beginning of many more brouhahas, and at least now you'll have to report them, because that's your business: brouhaha.”

“Would it be better to also have a formal commitment to reducing petroleum? Sure, but we didn't get that. It's a lot to ask.”

Saying he would not give up, he added that climate change is “not some little issue. It's an existential threat to your children. I'll be fine,” he added, “for the next ten or fifteen years or however long I'll be around. You won't be.”

“This is the most serious threat that a state government can do anything about.”

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