What to make of the California Senate’s move to get in on the global warming act?
Led by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, state Senate Democrats yesterday introduced a package of new bills to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the Golden State. Which is curious in a number of respects, because California just adopted a landmark bill last summer, AB 32 by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and LA Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, to do the very same. And now it is up to the state’s famed Air Resources Board to develop the specifics.
One of the bills in the Senate package would require California to have 33% of its electric power come from renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and tides by 2020. That’s a good idea. But California is, as has been reported on NWN several times over the last two years, falling behind on its current requirement of having 20% renewables by 2010.
Maybe it would be a good idea to fully implement the current renewable energy law first.
That 2010 requirement, incidentally, came at the behest of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was frustrated by the level of the previous landmark law on renewable energy passed by the Democratic Legislature and signed into law by then Governor Gray Davis in 2002. Which required 20% renewable electric power not by 2010, but by 2017.
In 2002, well before the recall in which Schwarzenegger became governor of California was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, the former action superstar told me he wanted to go beyond what Davis and the Democratic legislators had come up with on renewable power. And he has, at least as a matter of policy.
If Perata and Senate Democrats — including the powerful career environmental staffer Kip Lipper — want to make a real difference on renewable energy, rather than simply pass another law, perhaps they should invite the state’s Public Utilities Commission to hearings on why California is falling short on the 20% renewables requirement by 2010.
Passing another law requiring renewable energy for electric power generation when the current, Arnold-accelerated law, is falling short does not seem particularly useful. Unless it is intended to be a spur. But a better spur would be legislative oversight hearings.
The rest of the package focuses on regulatory rather than market-oriented solutions to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Schwarzenegger, being a moderate Republican, is mainly focused on market-oriented solutions. As are the Western Europeans, such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who are the only global leaders actually doing something about the emerging climate change crisis.
There are two key elements to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Power generation and vehicles. The law passed in 2002, also authored by Fran Pavley, to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, is under attack in court from major automakers. And from the Bush Administration. While the president now fully acknowledges and accepts the findings of the recent report from global climate experts that climate change is happening and is due to manmade effects, his administration still seeks to halt governmental action to deal with the problem. Which, given its tilt to the oil industry, is hardly surprising.
And so we see — despite even the statements from the top two Republican presidential candidates, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, the only ones who are likely electable next year — an ongoing effort by some conservatives to continue to deny the problem. For example, our friend Jon Fleischman, at his Flash Report site, castigated McCain for the “environmental extremism” of touring a Southern California port by helicopter with Arnold Schwarzenegger and talking about the need to combat the greenhouse effect.
Into this mini-maelstrom steps Perata, who has been getting short shrift in the post-partisan lovefest between Schwarzenegger and Nunez. It’s Nunez who was in Davos, accepting the accolades of global celebrities for California’s leadership on climate change.
It’s ironic, because it was actually Perata who wanted to work with Schwarzenegger, in bipartisan, if not post-partisan, fashion, well before Nunez did. The speaker was still trying to figure out Schwarzenegger and still, under the influence of his labor union backers, pursuing a slash and burn approach to the governor, going so far as to kill his big solar energy bill in 2005.
Perata, actually, in many respects was the key to the great infrastructure bonds package of 2006. He introduced the original package, which Schwarzenegger then greatly expanded upon following his predictable trouncing in the 2005 special election.
But it is Schwarzenegger and Nunez who star in the buddy picture, not Arnold and Don. Which brings us back to global warming.
AB 32 passed last summer. It’s up to the Air Resources Board to develop the implementation strategy. Perata’s old ally, former Governor and now Attorney General Jerry Brown, who actually pioneered this issue decades ago, long before any of these other folks now crowding the stage ever thought about this, will be heavily involved with the process. Let’s let the ARB do its work.