SAN FRANCISCO -- California Attorney General Jerry Brown defended the state's climate change law yesterday, explaining that he sees room for "adjustments" but would not support an outright suspension of greenhouse gas reductions until the economy improves.
Brown, the leading Democratic candidate for governor in the state, said his likely GOP opponent in the November general election, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, is mistaken in her view that freezing the law for a year or more would help the California economy and jobs rebound.
"That stop-and-start is exactly what creates investor uncertainty" in the clean-tech sector, Brown said during the GreenNet 2010 conference here. "To just respond to particular pressures, if you let that happen, you don't get anywhere. It's called breakdown, as opposed to breakthrough."
In the same breath, Brown said he would support adjusting the law, known as A.B. 32, to account for states in the West backing away from cap-and-trade policies meant to address global warming and lower carbon emissions in a regional market.
During a question-and-answer session with reporters, he would not say what specific changes he would favor, deferring to the California Air Resources Board's process on shaping regulations, which are scheduled to go live in 2012.
Brown's comments were his most extensive to date on the swirling political environment surrounding A.B. 32. Whitman, fearing job losses, says she would suspend the law if elected governor, and a campaign to place a proposed delay on the November ballot is still in the works and gathering signatures.
'A chess game with complicated rules'
Brown acknowledged a tough regulatory environment in California, where businesses are said to face more red tape in terms of environmental rules than in any other state in the country. If elected governor, he pledged to address overlapping regulations and shrink what he described as a "stifling" bureaucracy.
"We are both hostile to business and stimulative and nurturing of so many entrepreneurs," said Brown, who was governor from 1975 to 1983. "We have to align the creativity of Silicon Valley and the green-tech industry with a government policy and regime that fits and spurs innovation."
The obstacles facing renewable energy developers in the Mojave Desert are symptomatic of the red tape, Brown said, because federal, state and local agencies are operating under "such an array of complexity." This slows the state's ability to build power lines to remote areas where solar and geothermal sources are more plentiful, he said.
"This is a chess game with complicated rules," he said. "These things can be done faster."
As for Whitman, who has been rising in the polls, Brown said her approach "is just not the way to go" because he argues it would roll the climate process backward. He insisted that A.B. 32, which would cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, is "an important framework" that could still see significant revisions.
"There isn't a law that we have that doesn't need changes," he said. "I would listen to what people are saying. How you deal with the transition [to a cap-and-trade market] is an important question. We don't want to burden business unduly or in a counterproductive way."
Calls to the Whitman campaign seeking clarification on her A.B. 32 position and whether she would halt an executive order mandating a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2020 were not returned. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed the 33 percent RPS last year.
Brown straddles limit on public power
Brown also addressed a proposition on the June ballot in California sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. that would require governments to get a two-thirds vote to embark on or expand existing public power agencies.
Brown, in another nuanced remark, appeared to say he could see both sides of the issue. He said the utility is trying to "create more certainty for itself" to defend its service territory, but at the same time, he signaled support for current law.
"You can raise questions about whether that pathway is the right way to go," Brown said of communities converting to locally controlled power. "Whether renewables would be as cheap as they would by the current arrangement" is an open question, he added.
As for the climate process in Congress, Brown urged lawmakers to respect state authority and not move to pre-empt California's low-carbon fuel standard, its tailpipe emissions law or the climate change measure.
"Having said that, if you have too many cooks in the kitchen, things can get screwed up," said Brown, in urging Congress to adopt carbon caps and set a single national standard.
Want to read more stories like this?
E&E is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy politics and policy.
Click here to start a free trial to E&E -- the best way to track policy and markets.