The Politics of the Greenhouse Gas Law Extension

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


The California Air Resources Board set a match to controversy this week suggesting that the board could push the cap-and-trade deadline for funding greenhouse gas reduction programs past its 2020 end date by executive fiat.

That’s not the way the law works, many Republicans cried, and they are backed up by an opinion from the Legislative Counsel’s Office.

According to the opinion, “The act does not authorize the Governor or the ARB to establish a greenhouse gas emissions that is below 1990 level and that would be applicable after 2020.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller called the ARB proposal “illegal” and admonished the executive branch, “Californians deserve better than a government that acts as if they are above the law.”

Many in the business community feel fixes are needed to the current program before any extension is contemplated. Dorothy Rothrock, president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association said in a release following the ARB announcement, “Manufacturing investments and jobs have lagged other states in the US over the past six years by a large margin. Future climate policies must recognize this reality and be designed to protect California’s manufacturing jobs and economy.”

The cap-and-trade policy ARB wants to extend is subject to court action already, as business interests, including the California Chamber of Commerce, brought suit claiming the cap-and-trade formula is actually a tax requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature. The law establishing cap-and-trade, AB 32 of 2006, was established by majority vote. While a lower court brushed aside the business complaint an appellate court is now considering the matter. Observers watching court action say there is a chance the lower court decision could be reversed.

There is another way for the legislature and the governor to extend the cap-and-trade end date and lower the greenhouse gases goal below 1990 levels. Pass legislation.

That is exactly what some in the legislature are trying to do with SB 32, that would extend the law lowering the acceptable greenhouse gas level 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

The court case, however, raises doubt about whether the SB 32 needs a simple majority vote or a two-thirds vote.

In a Flash Report column yesterday, state Senator Andy Vidak said attempts are being made by Democratic leaders in the legislature to secure enough Republican votes to allow SB 32 to pass by two-thirds. If true, that is a strong indication that the Democrats are concerned the court will side with the CalChamber over the tax issue and brand cap-and-trade an illegal tax.

Yet, the politics over changing the greenhouse gases law do not stop there. Another consideration is one posed by L.A. Times columnist George Skelton who suggested California voters in November, reacting negatively to a Trump candidacy, might defeat Republican officeholders thus securing a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature for the Democrats.

In that case, the strategy for the Democrats just might be to bide their time. Then again, you might conclude that the politics don’t stop at that point, even with a two-thirds Democratic majority, because the politics of energy and its cost have split the Democratic caucus in the past and could do so again.

 

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