Calif. Climate and Air Quality Bills: Give and Take Works

Leaders in California’s capitol—Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, and Governor Jerry Brown—this week announced a package of two bills to extend the state’s breakthrough cap-and-trade climate program and to get real about cutting local air pollution in communities suffering from traffic and industrial pollution.

The package—like most things in life—isn’t perfect. And one of the bills, AB 398, needs a 2/3 vote—a high hurdle, even in California, so some compromise is inevitable. Taken together, these bills take California’s world-class climate program into the next decade and get more serious than ever before about achieving real air quality improvements in the communities hardest hit by traffic and industrial pollution. NRDC is joined by millions of members of environmental and public health groups in California in supporting this package.

The proposed legislation culminates weeks of back-and-forth negotiations. As with any complex package, there are gives and takes—but overall the package represents a big step forward in the battle to improve California’s air quality, further our state’s national and international leadership on climate change, and fight back against President Trump’s anti-environment agenda.

The cap-and-trade extension is part of Assembly Bill 398, sponsored by Assembly member Eduardo Garcia. The air quality improvement bill, Assembly Bill 617, is led by Assembly members Cristina Garcia, Eduardo Garcia, and Miguel Santiago. These elected leaders have proven track records of fighting against climate change and standing up for local communities and public health. The bills will be voted on by the California legislature early next week, currently scheduled for Monday, July 15.   

California’s cap-and-trade climate program serves as the backstop for the state’s comprehensive plan to cut the dangerous emissions driving climate change. Cap-and-trade was designed to put a price on carbon emissions, incentivize companies to transition to clean energy, and ensure the state meets its 2020 target of returning to 1990 emissions levels. This program has been critical to the growth of clean energy and energy efficiency in the state, which has helped inject $48 billion into California’s economy and created more than 500,000 jobs, according to a recent analysis by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a nonpartisan business group.

But cap-and-trade is only set to run through 2020, and until a few weeks ago, was the subject of a legal dispute that had cast a shadow over the program. The California Supreme Court ended that fight by refusing to consider the challenge, an attempt by industry interests to tie up legislative proceedings. Now that the legal air is clearer, California leaders have a duty to move forward on California’s clean air and climate goals.

AB 398 would extend the cap-and-trade program beyond 2020, continuing the state’s long-term fight against climate change geared to meeting the new carbon reduction targets enacted last year—a 40 percent statewide reduction below 1990 levels by 2030. It also bulletproofs the state’s authority to charge polluters for their emissions and use those proceeds to scale up clean energy, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

AB 617 doubles down on cleaning up air pollution, especially in hard-hit California communities that suffer from traffic and industrial pollution with long-overdue air quality reforms that would end the grandfathering of old, dilapidated equipment at oil refineries and other large polluting facilities that have been lingering for decades. It also would enhance the enforcement tools that regulators need to hold polluters accountable. The proposal would set up community-level action plans that offer the possibility of serious air quality improvement in the neighborhoods that need it most--backed by a commitment of dedicated funding.

It’s never been a more important time for California to lead in the fight against climate change, as President Trump steps away from the Paris climate agreement, tries to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, and moves to ramp up oil and gas drilling across our public lands—millions of acres of those federal lands are right here in California.

With no help coming from Washington, DC, states and local governments need to do everything in their power to reduce carbon pollution and protect public health, especially in vulnerable neighborhoods. AB 617 and AB 398 together represent a critical opportunity to move California’s climate and clean air goals forward. Our communities are depending on us—and the world is watching.

About the Authors

Annie Notthoff

Director, California Advocacy, San Francisco and Sacramento

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