Brown, lawmakers bow to political pressure, remove petroleum mandate in climate bill

By Debra Kahn | 09/10/2015 08:27 AM EDT

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state lawmakers are giving up their plans to reduce petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030, they announced yesterday.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state lawmakers are giving up their plans to reduce petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030, they announced yesterday.

The mandate was included in S.B. 350, a bill being shepherded through the Legislature by Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D) in the waning days of the state’s legislative session.

The goal was perhaps the most ambitious of the three that Brown announced upon taking office in January for his fourth term. The other two — to increase the state’s share of renewable energy to 50 percent and to double the efficiency of existing buildings by 2030 — still remain in the bill, which must pass the Legislature by tomorrow.


Brown blamed the partial pullback on opposition by oil companies. He said that Chevron executives had lobbied him as recently as Tuesday night to water down the authority of the Air Resources Board, the state agency in charge of writing climate regulations under the state’s existing law, A.B. 32.

"We don’t expect to win every skirmish that will be before us," he said. "What we did do on this bill is not cave in to the last-minute effort of Big Oil to strip the power of the ARB to enforce A.B. 32."

Brown sought to downplay the practical effects of taking out the petroleum provision. He said the state still has authority to impose petroleum reductions, via an executive order that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed in June 2005 and another that Brown signed in April, setting emissions targets of 40 percent and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 2050, respectively.

He said more regulations would be forthcoming, starting with "toughened and more-refined" changes to the state’s low-carbon fuel standard that will be announced next week.

Brown promises more regulations

"This is one skirmish, but I’ll tell you, it’s increasing the intensity of my commitment to do everything I can to make sure we reduce oil consumption in California," he said. "My zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree, and nothing, nothing is going to stop this state from pushing forward on our low-carbon fuel standard and our cap-and-trade and our ZEV [zero-emission vehicle] mandate."

"The only thing we don’t have is a formal statement in law of the 50 percent, but the ARB is committed to that 50 percent goal, and I am committed to backing them up and doing whatever I can," Brown said. "We might get another bill next year, we might just keep doing it by regulation. California is not going to miss a beat."

But a partial failure on S.B. 350 could hobble California in its efforts at international climate diplomacy. Brown and other state officials have been vocal in calling for subnational governments to have a strong voice at the upcoming U.N. negotiations in Paris in December and have been signing up other governments to a treaty aimed at limiting global warming’s temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. Last week, they added the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Rondônia and Tocantins to the list of 21 signatories (ClimateWire, Sept. 9).

Still open is whether the bill will move forward without the petroleum piece. The failure Tuesday of a companion bill on the Assembly floor — Sen. Fran Pavley’s (D) S.B. 32, which would enshrine the gubernatorial emissions targets in law — didn’t bode well for S.B. 350 (Greenwire, Sept. 9). Eight Democrats voted against it, and another 14 abstained from voting, giving it 30 votes out of a needed 41.

S.B. 350 had 25 potential Democratic opponents in the Assembly ahead of yesterday’s announcement, according to one lawmaker. Assemblymember Ian Calderon (D) said the members mostly represented communities with ethnic minority residents and that the petroleum piece and ARB oversight were the main concerns.

Lawmakers worry about ‘unelected bureaucracy’

"The major contention really lies with the ARB and us giving what we believe is legislative oversight authority to an unelected bureaucracy," he said. Lawmakers are elected and accountable for their decisions, he said, but "under this bill, what a lot of members are worried about is that we give all this responsibility to an unelected bureaucracy that will do things that affect our communities, and we have no control over it. We have no say."

One of the key Assembly holdouts on S.B. 32 was Assemblymember Henry Perea (D), who leads a group of moderate Democrats who have expressed concern that climate regulations put a greater burden on more rural, vehicle-dependent communities like the Fresno area he represents. He said yesterday’s concessions had won him over on S.B. 350.

"Assuming the language reflects what was discussed in the news conference today, I’m looking forward to supporting it," he said.

The Western States Petroleum Association — which includes BP, Chevron, Shell Oil Co. and Exxon Mobil Corp. as members — issued a statement praising the compromise but stopping short of supporting the new version of the bill.

"WSPA and its member companies remain committed to working with Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators on climate change and energy policy," said WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd.

Perea said he still wouldn’t support S.B. 32 if it comes up for a vote again this week. "I think our efforts should continue to be on 350," he said. "I think 32 might be premature."

Pavley pointed out that by rejecting her bill, the Legislature would give up the opportunity to shape ARB’s regulations. She amended it last month to require the state Air Resources Board to report to lawmakers on where emissions reductions occurred and what the effect has been on the state’s economy (ClimateWire, Aug. 26).

"Whether or not the Legislature acts on petroleum or on a long-term emissions plan, the law affords the governor ample authority to move ahead on either front," she said. "The opportunity I’m offering the Assembly with Senate Bill 32 is for a greater role in shaping that path. We are still assessing how the Assembly wants to move forward. But move forward we must because doing nothing is not an option."

Reporter Anne C. Mulkern contributed.