California environmentalists have good reason to cheer. Senate President Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg has killed AB 69, which would have evicerated the state's clean energy policies under the guise of avoiding an increase in gasoline prices. But the fact that the bill came up at all, and received the support it did, is an ominous sign.
Steinberg, who also is chair of the Senate's Rules Committee, wrote a letter last week to Ass. Henry Perea that he was refusing to schedule a hearing on Perea's AB 69, which would have added a critical three-year delay to the scheduled Jan. 1 inclusion of transportation fuels to the state's cap and trade program. It's a particularly blunt and well-argued letter, well worth reading, here.
But as I've discussed previously on this blog, here and here, the bill was widely expected to be killed. What's notable is the support the bill received in its mercifully short life. It gained significant traction from Democrats as well as Republicans, including some otherwise intelligent legislators who should have known better, such as Joan Buchanan, an East Bay Democrat who co-signed a table-thumping letter in support of the bill.
Here are a few takeaways (slightly modified from my previous posts):
- Shot across the bow for post-2020 legislation. An omnibus bill is expected next year to update the state's climate goals for the period after 2020, when AB 32's targets expire. For details of this monumental legislative task, see the useful summary by Justin Gerdes last year in Forbes and the in-depth white paper this year by Robert Stavins and Todd Schatzki. With AB 69, the oil industry and the Chamber of Commerce have signaled their political strength and their determination to prevent any further strengthening of California's climate laws. We'll be back, they say. Believe it.
- Don't forget the courts. A lawsuit is underway from the California Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups seeking to overthrow the entire cap and trade system on the grounds that it is a hidden tax and violates the California Constitution because it was not approved by a two-thirds vote as must all taxes. The lawsuit was rejected by state Superior Court judge in November and is now before an appeals court.
- National climate politics. The big battle nationwide is over new federal rules extending emissions limits to existing power plants. As in California, the national Republicans are pretending to be defending working-class jobs from latte-sipping environmentalists, and the temporary success of AB 69 demonstrates the potency of faux class warfare.