California will become a petri dish for international efforts to slow global warming under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday, forcing one of the world's largest economies to squeeze into a dramatically smaller carbon footprint. "What we're doing here is farsighted, as well as far-reaching," Brown said at a signing ceremony at Vista Hermosa Natural Park in downtown Los Angeles. "California is doing something that no other state has done." The legislation, SB 32, requires the state to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, a much more ambitious target than the previous goal of hitting 1990 levels by 2020. Cutting emissions will affect nearly all aspects of life in the state -- where people live, how they get to work, how their food is produced and where their electricity comes from.
In this year's debate over California climate policy, much of the attention has centered on a proposal to extend and expand the state's mandate for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But it's another piece of legislation that's generating the most drama, becoming the focus of an intense political tug of war over who controls the next era of environmental regulation and which communities will benefit. The measure, Assembly Bill 197, would boost legislative oversight of the state's leading climate regulator, the California Air Resources Board, and would require the agency to focus more attention on cutting emissions from local refineries and manufacturers. By combining the two proposals in one bill, Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) and his allies are attempting a delicate balancing act concerning issues that have divided lawmakers for years. The goal is to assuage lawmakers who bristle at plans to continue empowering regulators and remain skeptical about whether policies to tackle a global problem are having a positive impact in their constituents' backyards.
While rolling out their plan to extend California's cap-and-trade program, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have portrayed their proposal as a win on two fronts: reaching the state's ambitious climate goals and tackling local air pollution. But beyond the triumphant rhetoric, there is ambivalence about the proposal, largely from progressive lawmakers and environmental advocates. Meanwhile, more conservative legislators and industry groups have stopped short of embracing the plan, throwing the swift passage Brown hoped for in doubt. The reactions to the proposal underscore a key tension in the debate over California's self-styled role as a national and international climate leader, particularly as President Trump slashes environmental regulations in Washington: How to balance aggressive action with broad political appeal. The state is responsible for a tiny fraction of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, meaning its only hope of influencing global warming is modeling policies that can be embraced elsewhere, including in more conservative states.
For Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, global warming conjured images of stricken polar bears floating away on melting ice sheets, a problem with little relevance to a politician from California's bone-dry Inland Empire. But while attending the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris last year, he heard a new conversation about helping the world's poor, polluted communities -- places that sounded a lot like his own district. "I don't consider myself a climate change activist," the Democrat said. "I consider myself an advocate for my community." But there was a hitch when he returned to Sacramento to push a new propsal.
California lawmakers are moving to reshape the state's climate change policies by focusing on social justice issues such as alleviating local pollution and creating job opportunities, laying down a marker in conversations about the future of the cap-and-trade program. The new measure, which will be introduced on Thursday by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), represents another step by Latino lawmakers to tie environmental policies to community-level concerns. The approach was a key part of last year's successful effort to set a new, tougher goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Now lawmakers are preparing for a wide-ranging debate over how the state should hit that target and keep California on the front lines of the battle against global warming at a time when President Trump has promised to step back from the fight. But the new legislation could lead to a confrontation with Gov. Jerry Brown, who has asked lawmakers to reauthorize the cap-and-trade program, which requires companies to purchase permits to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.