Legislation to require the world’s sixth-largest economy to reduce its climate change-causing pollution to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—the most aggressive target in North America—has cleared its final hurdle before consideration by the full California Assembly, which faces an Aug. 31 deadline to complete its work. Although many observers were ready to write off Senate Bill 32 (Pavley) last week, the bill passed out of the Assembly Appropriations committee yesterday and now moves to the floor with growing momentum, having already cleared the Senate last year.
Laws Matter (Says the Lawyer)
A decade ago, California took the climate bull by the horns in passing the Global Warming Solutions Act, commonly referred to as AB 32. It set a target of reducing California’s emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020 and, recognizing that not even California could arrest climate change that quickly, committed the state to maintain and continue reductions thereafter. While the statute is clear that the 2020 limit remains in effect, AB 32 is silent on the pace and timing of any commitments beyond 2020.
SB 32 breaks that silence. With 2020 on the horizon, the bill establishes a new goalpost to provide the certainty that clean energy businesses and investors are clamoring for and public health protections demand. Already, uncertainty about the trajectory of key climate policies after 2020 is making markets and clean energy investors skittish.
But regardless of how you read the legal tea leaves, SB 32 would also provide a critical and more durable boost of political support from the Legislature. In the wake of term limits, there is not a single assemblymember left in California who voted on AB 32 a decade ago. Understandably, there is a need for this new crop of lawmakers to feel a sense of ownership and stewardship over California’s climate programs. Together with its companion bill AB 197 (see below), SB 32 provides a platform for members of the elected branch to give voice to their constituents’ calls for climate action.
What’s New This Year
SB 32 bill fell short on the Assembly floor last year amidst intense oil industry lobbying, concerns about the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, and the whirlwind surrounding Senate Bill 350 (de León), which solidified the power sector’s contribution to achieving a 2030 target by doubling down on California’s renewable energy and energy efficiency commitments, but left little room for other measures to get their due consideration.
However, like many other landmark pieces of legislation in California’s storied climate history books, the second time around often proves to be the charm. And the platform and coalition behind SB 32 this year is stronger than ever:
- SB 32 is double joined with Assembly Bill 197 (E. Garcia), which strengthens the role of the legislature in developing and overseeing the plan devised by the Air Resources Board to achieve the 2030 target, and puts greater emphasis on transparency and equity to inform program design;
- With legislative gridlock reigning in Sacramento, the business community is out in force demanding that lawmakers provide the certainty they need to keep investing in clean energy (a recent analysis shows AB 32 policies have helped inject about $48 billion into communities across the state and create roughly 500,000 jobs);
- Local leaders, bearing witness to the impacts of climate change hitting home and the need for more resources to both respond and accelerate their sustainability initiatives, are pressing state officials to pass SB 32, including a bipartisan group of mayors of California’s eight largest cities;
- Newspapers around the state, including the LA Times, Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News, Ventura County Star and San Francisco Chronicle, are calling on lawmakers to do their job and pass SB 32 this year (as opposed to waiting for a 2018 ballot measure, as the governor recently suggested);
- 135 jurisdictions - representing more than 780 million people and a quarter of the global economy - have signed or endorsed the California-led Under2MOU, which commits signatories to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by either 80% economy-wide or to 2 tons per capita by 2050, and helped pave the way for more ambitious commitments in the landmark Paris Agreement last December;
- Data showing the overwhelming benefits of California’s climate policies has been sliced and diced for every Assembly district, helping lawmakers understand the connection between high-level climate targets and clean energy benefits at home;
- The chorus of personal stories of how Californians across the socioeconomic spectrum are saving money and finding work in California’s growing clean energy economy is becoming louder and louder; and
- Most importantly, public polling shows that Californians support the proposal in SB 32 by a margin of 3 to 1.
What Never Changes
Unfortunately, as we know all too well, overwhelming public support does not always translate into political action. As the lion’s share of California’s emissions come from the transportation sector, the oil industry is keenly aware that passing SB 32 will result in reduced demand for and increased competition with the products they sell (at least so long as they refuse to innovate to make cleaner ones). Now that the bill is heading to the floor, you can be sure the avalanche of oil money into Assembly districts will follow.
But no amount of money can alter the facts: since AB 32 went into force, emissions and energy consumption are down, while the economy, population, and employment are up—and none of the oil industry’s doomsday prophecies came to pass.
The California Assembly proudly boasts that it’s the people’s house. It’s time they act on what the people of California are demanding and pass SB 32