Thursday, September 17, 2015

After climate loss, Jerry Brown attempts an end-run around California Legislature

By Rob Nikolewski

Jerry Brown isn’t used to losing in the California Legislature.

And even though defections from a raft of fellow Democrats in Sacramento forced the second-term governor to abandon two sweeping anti-carbon measures, Brown vows to implement them anyway — through executive order.

“I’d say oil has won a skirmish, but they’ve lost the bigger battle, because I am more determined than ever to make our regulatory regime work for the people of California,” Brown told reporters last week after he had to pull a portion of a bill that required a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by motor vehicles in the state by 2030.

Democrats control nearly two-thirds of the California Assembly but intense opposition from oil companies as well as worries about how hard mandate would hit poor and middle-income families — California has the highest gas prices in the continental United States — eroded support, forcing Brown and his allies to retreat.

There were also increasing calls among Republicans and moderate Democrats to rein in the power of the California Air Resources Board, the agency largely in charge of enforcing many of Brown’s climate initiatives.

“Certain people tried to tell a story that this bill was about the oil producers,” Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat, told the Sacramento Bee. “I think the real story is people having independent voices and standing up for their districts.”

Led by moderate Democrats, the Assembly also stopped another climate-related mandate trying to extend the state’s greenhouse gas emissions limit to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

“It just really resonated with Californians who don’t have a lot of disposable income,” said Michael Shires, associate professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.

“One of the things that happens with a lot of this climate legislation is, people who are affluent paying more for gas or more for electricity, that’s just the cost of doing business,” Shires told “But for folks who are just kind of squeaking by, the economy hasn’t been real kind to them in the last couple years. That’s a tough thing to say, that you’re going to spend 5 or 10 percent more, or even 30 percent more on gas and electricity. That’s a big cost.”

Critics of Brown’s ambitious climate goals may not have much time to savor the victory because the 77-year-old governor appears to be taking a page from the playbook of President Obama by doing an end-run around the Legislature and implementing many of the climate requirements by executive order.

“We don’t have a declaration in statute, but we have absolutely the same authority,” Brown said. “We’re going forward. The only thing different is my zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree.”

In many ways, Brown has already done that.

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