Climate

California Lawmakers Abandon Key Part Of Climate Legislation, Blaming Oil Industry Lobbying

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, flanked by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, announced that they are scaling back a proposal to address climate change, during a news conference, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif.

California Democrats dropped a major component of their ambitious climate change legislation Wednesday, after a group of moderate Democratic holdouts threatened to spell the end for the bill.

The legislation affected was Senate Bill 350, which originally aimed for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks, a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and a goal of 50 percent of state utilities’ power coming from renewable energy, all by 2030. On Wednesday, lawmakers scrapped the goal of a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks. California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who authored the legislation, said Wednesday that a major lobbying campaign by the oil industry was largely to blame for the doubt that had emerged over the bill.

“The fact that, despite overwhelming scientific opinion and statewide public support, we still weren’t able to overcome the silly-season scare tactics of an outside industry which has repeatedly opposed environmental progress and energy innovation — means that there’s a temporary disconnect in our politics which needs to be overcome,” de León said.

The oil industry has poured money into a campaign against SB 350, calling the legislation the “California Gas Restriction Act of 2015” and warning that it could lead to bans on SUVs.

SB 350 is “an attempt to essentially put oil companies out of business,” Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said in August.

De León has maintained that none of the oil industry’s claims are true. Still, SB 350 had come up against a wall of moderate Democrats in recent weeks. In late August, about 20 Assembly Democrats met with Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, saying they were worried that SB 350 isn’t clear enough on how it will affect motorists. These Democratic holdouts could have meant the end for the bill during this legislative session.

Taking out the petroleum measure was meant to be a concession to these moderate Democrats — and it seems to have worked, at least on one. Henry T. Perea, a moderate Democrat who had led the opposition to the petroleum measure, told the New York Times that he would now support SB 350.

“S.B. 350 will set California apart as a leader in climate change policy and will go a long way in reducing emissions in areas like the Central Valley that suffer from some of the worst air quality in the nation,” he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown also said Wednesday that he wouldn’t let the oil industry get in the way of his efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in California.

“Oil has won the skirmish, but they’ve lost the bigger battle,” he said. “Because I am more determined than ever to make our regulatory regime work for the people of California: cleaning up the air, reducing the petroleum and creating the green jobs that are going to put hundreds of thousands of people to work over the coming decades.”

SB 350 is expected to come to a vote before the end of the week. The bill is part of a larger climate package of 12 bills, some of which have already been voted on. SB 185, which prompted the state’s public employee investment funds to divest from coal, passed the Assembly last week, and is expected to be signed by the governor. Another bill, SB 32, which would have required the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, failed in the Assembly this week, though it may come up for another vote.