SACRAMENTO, Calif. >> Gov. Jerry Brown warned Thursday of a California ravaged by forest fires, disease and mass migration if lawmakers fail to renew the state’s signature program to fight climate change, which he called “a threat to organized human existence.”
California’s longest-serving governor, who has spent most of his life in and around public service, told lawmakers “this is the most important vote of your life.” Brown, 79, even warned lawmakers it’s them, not him, who will be around to experience the worst devastation wrought by global warming.
“A lot of you people are going to be alive,” he said, turning to a room packed with lobbyists and advocates on both sides of the debate. “And you’re going to be alive in a horrible situation that you’re going to see mass migrations, vector diseases, forest fires, Southern California blowing up. That’s real, guys.”
The urgency of Brown’s pitch comes as he scrambles to line up support to renew California’s cap and trade program in the face of opposition from conservatives who warn about costs and liberals who say it doesn’t do enough to protect the environment and clean dirty air.
The legislation cleared a Senate committee on Thursday but faces a bigger hurdle next week, when it’s scheduled for a vote in the full Assembly and Senate.
Cap and trade puts a limit on carbon emissions and requires polluters to obtain permits to release greenhouse gases. The governor touts the program around the world as an effective way to affordably address climate change, but its legal authorization expires in 2020. The current proposal would expand the program until 2030.
Brown punched back against critics who suggest he’s pressing the issue for personal gain.
“I’m not here about some cockamamie legacy that some people talk about,” he said. “This isn’t about me. I’m going to be dead.”
But passage of the bill isn’t coming easy. Environmental justice advocates say concessions Brown made to the oil industry and other polluters will harm the environment. The bill prohibits local air quality districts from further restricting carbon emissions of stationary sources like oil refineries. It also allows for some pollution permits to be distributed for free.
“It does not get us to the real, rapid emission reductions that our planet and our communities desperately need,” said Amy Vanderwarker, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance.
Brown and legislative leaders looked to address those concerns with companion legislation that aims to monitor and improve air quality around major sources of pollution, but the bill has not swayed environmental justice advocates.
Brown has been openly courting Republicans, and the legislation includes tax provisions they favor, including tax exemptions for power companies and the repeal of a fire-prevention fee.
But early Thursday, Assembly GOP Leader Chad Mayes said none of his caucus members are currently supporting the legislation as the GOP seeks to sweeten the deal. Republicans want to see more tax cuts and regulatory relief, he said. Eleven of 13 Senate Republicans signed a letter saying they oppose extending cap and trade.
Legislative leaders had originally hoped to vote Thursday on the legislation, but have pushed a vote off until Monday. They suggested negotiations on housing legislation may now be part of the mix.
The delay “will also allow our discussion on long-term housing affordability solutions in California to catch up to the climate effort,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in a joint statement.
In the past, Brown has vetoed bills to fund subsidized housing, saying he prefers to axe regulations that slow and increase the cost of housing production. Brown’s eagerness to pass a cap-and-trade bill could give lawmakers leverage to strike a deal with him on affordable housing funding.
Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, who wrote one of the major housing proposals, said he hopes several bills to address both funding for affordable housing and streamlining of housing construction will advance in the legislature in a package as early as next week.