EXCLUSIVE: Leaked Documents Show Jerry Brown Giving Big Oil a Seat in Drafting Climate Policy

The California governor is selling himself as a climate advocate on the global stage, but behind the scenes, the fossil fuel industry appears to have his ear.

Kate Aronoff June 28, 2017

Gov. Brown flew to China to assure leaders that, while the U.S. may not remain part of the Paris Agreement, California will; but is he as committed to fighting climate change as he seems? (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jer­ry Brown has been mak­ing the most of Don­ald Trump’s with­draw­al from the Paris accord. Less than a week after Trump announced he would pull the U.S. out of the land­mark cli­mate agree­ment, Brown flew to Chi­na to meet with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping about their shared efforts to cap green­house gas emis­sions — with or with­out the White House’s sup­port. California’s lead­ing, China’s lead­ing,” the 79-year-old polit­i­cal vet­er­an boast­ed in Bei­jing. Not­ing that trip and Brown’s lead­ing role in a series of joint envi­ron­men­tal efforts with cities and states across North Amer­i­ca, Cal­i­for­nia,” the New York Times her­ald­ed, is emerg­ing as the nation’s de fac­to nego­tia­tor with the world on the environment.”

With Brown evangelizing for climate action, his backing of a watered-down measure has the potential to limit other states’ ambitions. Why would a red or purple state or even a less thoroughly Democratic one pass a climate policy more bold than the one that emerged from California’s liberal utopia?

In the state capi­tol in Sacra­men­to, how­ev­er, a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive is emerg­ing. Doc­u­ments obtained by In These Times show that California’s fos­sil fuel indus­try is try­ing to rewrite state cli­mate pol­i­cy to its lik­ing. And sources close to the state capi­tol believe there’s a good chance Brown, fresh off sev­er­al closed-door meet­ings with the indus­try, may let them do it. While a bill cur­rent­ly in front of California’s State Sen­ate could pio­neer one of the country’s most ambi­tious pieces of cli­mate leg­is­la­tion, Brown’s admin­is­tra­tion has been con­sid­er­ing an alter­na­tive mea­sure — not yet a bill — that’s laden with talk­ing points that appear to be ripped near ver­ba­tim from a pol­i­cy paper by the state’s influ­en­tial oil and gas lobby.

But why would a cli­mate cham­pi­on like Brown hand the keys to the state’s cli­mate pol­i­cy over to the fos­sil fuel lobbyists?

Where Brown’s loy­al­ties lie

Brown’s fam­i­ly has a long his­to­ry in the oil and gas busi­ness. His father — for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Edmund G. Pat” Brown — helped Indonesia’s then-recent­ly installed mil­i­tary jun­ta secure $12 mil­lion in loans from a string of Amer­i­can banks in the late six­ties, short­ly after leav­ing office. The same jun­ta also nation­al­ized Roy­al Dutch Shell in the coun­try, and, in return for his ser­vice, Pat Brown was award­ed con­trol of a régime-linked Cal­i­for­nia oil trad­ing com­pa­ny as well as half-own­er­ship of anoth­er oil trad­ing office in Hong Kong. Brown’s youngest sis­ter Kath­leen Brown, a for­mer Gold­man Sachs exec­u­tive, serves on the Board of Direc­tors for Sem­pra Ener­gy, own­er of the state’s largest provider of nat­ur­al gas, the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Gas Company.

In office, Brown has always bal­anced a com­mit­ment to envi­ron­men­tal caus­es with a com­mit­ment to the fos­sil fuel indus­try. On the one hand he parades on the world stage talk­ing about how Cal­i­for­nia is the world leader on cli­mate,” says Liza Tuck­er, a con­sumer advo­cate at the San­ta Mon­i­ca-based group Con­sumer Watch­dog. At the same time, back­room deals are being done all over the place. It’s hypocritical.”

An August 2016 report Tuck­er authored found that 26 ener­gy com­pa­nies and investor-owned util­i­ties donat­ed near­ly $4.7 mil­lion toward Brown’s 2010 elec­tion cam­paign, and indus­try inter­ests donat­ed $4.4 mil­lion to the state’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty between 2011 and 2014. In total, oil inter­ests have spent over $122 mil­lion on lob­by­ing and elec­tions in Cal­i­for­nia over the last six years.

California’s fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies appear to have invest­ed wise­ly. In 2011, when reform­ers entered the Divi­sion of Oil, Gas, and Geot­her­mal Resources (DOG­GR) — the state’s extrac­tive indus­try reg­u­la­tor — and attempt­ed to bring oil and gas com­pa­nies into reg­u­la­to­ry com­pli­ance, Brown instruct­ed one of his top aides to have them dis­missed. While push­ing the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion to ban new off­shore oil devel­op­ment, Brown moved to pro­tect exist­ing off­shore oil drilling, and has great­ly expand­ed the state’s fleet of fos­sil fueled pow­er plants. His admin­is­tra­tion has also inter­vened to stop local bans on frack­ing. Three months after he and oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers rebuffed a push by activists to have the prac­tice banned statewide, Chevron donat­ed $350,000 to the state’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

As the nation’s third-largest oil pro­duc­er, California’s fos­sil fuel indus­try has long held sway on both sides of the aisle in Sacra­men­to, despite the state’s rep­u­ta­tion as a pio­neer on cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal issues. A detailed inves­ti­ga­tion by the Cen­ter for Pub­lic Integrity’s Michael J. Mishak found a his­to­ry of long-stand­ing ties between law­mak­ers and the oil and gas com­pa­nies who lob­by them. All the way back in 1915, DOG­GR — now osten­si­bly tasked with reg­u­lat­ing the state’s extrac­tive indus­try — was set up to make it eas­i­er for oil and gas firms to acquire land for drilling. Envi­ron­men­tal­ists allege it serves a large­ly sim­i­lar func­tion today.

Ener­gy and envi­ron­men­tal issues have a his­to­ry of peel­ing off mod­er­ate Democ­rats from the rest of the par­ty, in no small part because of the sig­nif­i­cant lob­by­ing done by the West­ern States Petro­le­um Asso­ci­a­tion (WSPA), an indus­try group that counts Shell, BP, Exxon­Mo­bil and sev­er­al oth­er oil and gas giants among its mem­bers. Like the Amer­i­can Petro­le­um Insti­tute at the nation­al lev­el, WSPA (pro­nounced wis­pa”) is the lob­by­ing arm of oil and gas com­pa­nies in the Amer­i­can West, and has an espe­cial­ly strong pres­ence in California.

When ener­gy-relat­ed bills pass the [Cal­i­for­nia] Leg­is­la­ture, WSPA and its mem­bers have a hand in how rules are craft­ed and laws are enforced,” Mishak writes. Lob­by­ists pick up meals for reg­u­la­tors at fast-food restau­rants, refin­ery cafe­te­rias, and ocean­front resorts. Oil exec­u­tives and state reg­u­la­tors meet as an oil and gas work group’ to dis­cuss rulemaking.”

A sim­i­lar dynam­ic appears to be creep­ing into the fight to extend California’s cap-and-trade sys­tem. Brown is clear that he wants some ver­sion of the pro­gram to con­tin­ue. Less clear is whose advice he plans to take. As the Los Ange­les Times has report­ed, the governor’s office is cur­rent­ly meet­ing with sev­er­al stake­hold­ers about cap-and-trade. But the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice advo­cates who have ral­lied behind SB 775 — the pro­pos­al fur­thest along in the process, favored by advo­cates for its rig­or­ous emis­sions reduc­tion goals and atten­tion to envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice con­cerns — say Brown is giv­ing pref­er­ence in nego­ti­a­tions to fos­sil fuel indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who have been reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to the governor’s offices. Accord­ing to sources close to SB775 who wish to remain anony­mous because of the ongo­ing nego­ti­a­tions, doc­u­ments leaked from Capi­tol cap-and-trade dis­cus­sions sug­gest that Brown’s office is sid­ing with indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives, whom his team has met with fre­quent­ly in the last sev­er­al weeks.

The doc­u­ments out­line new cap-and-trade pro­pos­al that would be far more friend­ly to indus­try than SB 775. The pro­posed mea­sures mir­ror calls from WSPA and oth­er indus­try groups to build in sev­er­al loop­holes for oil and gas pro­duc­ers that SB 775 would eliminate.

They want to elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­i­ty of direct reg­u­la­tion of their pol­lu­tion,” Tuck­er says of the oil industry’s pow­er play on cap and trade, because that’s going to be more expensive…because of the advan­ta­geous way that the cap-and-trade sys­tem is cur­rent­ly struc­tured, so they can view car­bon trad­ing as a flim-flam where they can keep doing busi­ness as usual.”

The cap-and-trade leg­is­la­tion is just the lat­est iter­a­tion of this trend,” Tuck­er said, ref­er­enc­ing Brown’s meet­ings with the oil industry.

Even giv­en the Brown fam­i­ly ties and the governor’s his­to­ry of appeas­ing the indus­try, the advo­cates and envi­ron­men­tal­ists I spoke with agreed that Brown’s own record on the envi­ron­ment is decid­ed­ly mixed; sev­er­al of the cli­mate mea­sure he’s backed have been gen­uine­ly inno­v­a­tive. Obvi­ous­ly, com­pared to Don­ald Trump he walks on water,” Tuck­er says. My point is that he could do bet­ter. The state can do bet­ter if he wants to be an exam­ple to the rest of the Unit­ed States.”

What indus­try’s so afraid of

Worth men­tion­ing here is that California’s claims to cli­mate lead­er­ship aren’t just smoke and mir­rors. The state leg­is­la­ture — often with Brown as a key boost­er — has enact­ed a suite of impres­sive envi­ron­men­tal poli­cies over the last sev­er­al years. Employ­ing a mix of reg­u­la­to­ry and mar­ket-based mea­sures, the Gold­en State’s green­house gas emis­sions have steadi­ly declined since 2010 even as its econ­o­my has grown.

Cal­i­for­nia, the world’s sixth largest econ­o­my, now has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to shrink the state’s car­bon foot­print even more dra­mat­i­cal­ly. In an effort to slash the state’s emis­sions to 40 per­cent below 1990 lev­els by 2030 — a goal passed into law last fall by the state leg­is­la­ture — Brown announced recent­ly that he’d like to extend the state’s cap-and-trade sys­tem. The sys­tem was estab­lished in 2006 and ini­tial­ly set to expire in 2020. Brown wants to extend it into 2030 and beyond. The mea­sure is also cur­rent­ly fac­ing legal chal­lenges from cap-and-trade oppo­nents, so part of the idea is to craft a new sys­tem that will be more dif­fi­cult to defeat in either the courts or the legislature.

The most like­ly heir appar­ent to the cur­rent sys­tem is a new one out­lined in SB 775, a bill to extend and alter the state’s exist­ing cap-and-trade mea­sures intro­duced by state Sen. Bob Wieck­ows­ki (D‑Fremont) and state Sen­ate Pres­i­dent pro Tem­pore Kevin de León (D‑Los Ange­les). SB 775 is now sit­ting in front of the state Sen­ate, and, if enact­ed, would rep­re­sent a mas­sive depar­ture from California’s cur­rent car­bon trad­ing sys­tem, as well as a kind of North Star for cli­mate pol­i­cy around the coun­try. That also might explain why the state’s oil lob­by is so eager to coun­ter­act it.

It’s impor­tant to under­stand just how ambi­tious SB 775 real­ly is. Draft­ed with con­sul­ta­tion from a cross-sec­tion of greens, econ­o­mists and envi­ron­men­tal and social jus­tice groups, the bill’s main pri­or­i­ties are bring­ing down the state’s emis­sions and pro­tect­ing the Cal­i­for­ni­ans being worst hit by pol­lu­tion and cli­mate impacts — both now and in the future.

As econ­o­mist Mark Paul, who helped work on SB 775, explains, it’s some­thing of a hybrid between a straight-up car­bon tax and a tra­di­tion­al cap-and-trade sys­tem like the one Cal­i­for­nia has now. Here’s how it would work: Every three months, a set num­ber of car­bon cred­its are auc­tioned off to pol­luters. As in a tra­di­tion­al cap-and-trade sys­tem, each cred­it rep­re­sents the amount of pol­lu­tion a com­pa­ny can emit in that quar­ter, and the price per cred­it is based on sup­ply and demand. How­ev­er, the prices would fluc­tu­ate only between a state-deter­mined floor and ceil­ing, both of which would increase by a set rate every year. The floor would start at $20 per ton and the ceil­ing at $30 per ton, with the floor ris­ing by $5 per year and the ceil­ing by $10, plus infla­tion. The idea is to start low and give firms and con­sumers time to adjust, while also ensur­ing that the ceil­ing ris­es to $120 by 2030 — pur­suant to mod­el­ing on how the price can help meet the state’s cli­mate goals.

Because the cred­its do not car­ry over from quar­ter to quar­ter, firms can­not stock­pile (or bank”) cred­its. As a result, the small car­bon mar­ket cre­at­ed would be less vul­ner­a­ble to the kind of spec­u­la­tion that, applied to sub­prime mort­gages, trig­gered the finan­cial cri­sis. Beyond the poten­tial for reck­less invest­ments, allow­ing firms to accu­mu­late cred­its year after year could mean that even­tu­al­ly com­pa­nies could sim­ply pur­chase thick stacks of cred­its with­out doing much of any­thing to bring down emissions.

We’re not inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing a mar­ket for the envi­ron­ment,” Paul says, adding that the log­ic behind hav­ing a cap at all (rather than sim­ply a price) is to reg­u­late the amount of total pol­lu­tion com­ing out of the state’s indus­tries. If prices stay at the ceil­ing — as the peo­ple behind the plan expect it might — then it would oper­ate more or less like a fixed price for emit­ting carbon.

Unique­ly, SB 775 enjoys the sup­port of sev­er­al envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice groups, many of which tend to oppose mar­ket-based mea­sures as laden with loop­holes for big pol­luters and scant on pro­tec­tions for vul­ner­a­ble groups. I‑732, Wash­ing­ton state’s car­bon pric­ing scheme that was on the bal­lot there last Novem­ber, failed in part because near­ly all of the state’s pro­gres­sive and envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions saw it as too regres­sive and gen­er­ous to polluters.

The team behind SB 775 were eager to avoid those mis­takes and brought grass­roots part­ners in rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly on in the process. Aside from its attempt to tamp down on car­bon trad­ing, much of what sets it apart from sim­i­lar schemes has to do with what the bill would do with the rev­enue it gen­er­ates, and how it would elim­i­nate com­mon allowances for polluters.

Typ­i­cal­ly, cap-and-trade sys­tems — includ­ing the one now in place in Cal­i­for­nia — allow big pol­luters to pur­chase some­thing called car­bon off­sets, where­by a firm can off­set” its own pol­lu­tion by, say, pur­chas­ing a grove of trees to suck up a rough­ly equiv­a­lent amount of car­bon from the air. One big prob­lem with off­sets, envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice cam­paign­ers argue, is that they tend to be far away from the places where pol­lu­tion is hap­pen­ing, often in oth­er states or coun­tries. In addi­tion to let­ting com­pa­nies off the hook in terms of their car­bon emis­sions, off­sets also mean that com­mu­ni­ties close to car­bon-inten­sive, smog-pro­duc­ing indus­tries see lit­tle improve­ment in their qual­i­ty of life.

It’s great if somebody’s get­ting some wet­lands improved in Wis­con­sin,” Wieck­ows­ki says of off­sets, but that doesn’t real­ly help out Californians.” 

Anoth­er major change out­lined in SB 775 is how it would use the rev­enue gen­er­at­ed from the price put on car­bon, which under the cur­rent sys­tem goes toward a smat­ter­ing of green infra­struc­ture projects around the state. As it’s writ­ten now, the new sys­tem would divide the rev­enue up into three cat­e­gories: invest­ment in infra­struc­ture in dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties; invest­ment in research and devel­op­ment for low-car­bon tech­nolo­gies; and div­i­dend pay­ments to all Cal­i­for­ni­ans that increase annu­al­ly. This stands in con­trast to the kinds of rev­enue-neu­tral car­bon pric­ing and trad­ing schemes float­ed in Wash­ing­ton and enact­ed in British Colum­bia, where rev­enue is fun­neled into tax breaks for the car­bon-inten­sive com­pa­nies affect­ed by car­bon pricing.

A recent analy­sis coau­thored by Paul projects that a $49 per ton car­bon tax at the nation­al lev­el would yield a $479 div­i­dend pay­ment per Amer­i­can per year. That can be extrap­o­lat­ed to SB 775, he says, to indi­cate that Cal­i­for­ni­ans would receive $479 in annu­al div­i­dends by 2023, two years after the law goes into effect.

Cru­cial­ly, the bill also does not include mea­sures to elim­i­nate exist­ing reg­u­la­tions. Right-wing and lib­er­tar­i­an econ­o­mists — who account for most of the peo­ple writ­ing about car­bon pric­ing, Paul points out — see pre-empt­ing exist­ing reg­u­la­tions as a nec­es­sary com­ple­ment to enact­ing a car­bon price.

How­ev­er, so-called com­mand and con­trol” reg­u­la­to­ry mea­sures have account­ed for the vast major­i­ty of California’s emis­sions reduc­tions in the last decade. Reg­u­la­tions, not car­bon pric­ing, have been the main dri­ver of California’s car­bon reduc­tions to date,” Voxs David Roberts writes in his exhaus­tive explain­er on SB 775. In fact, they have been so effec­tive, and car­bon reduc­tions so much cheap­er than expect­ed, that there hasn’t been much work left for the cap-and-trade pro­gram to do. Near-term emis­sion goals are being reached with­out its help.”

Cam­paign­ers also cau­tion against see­ing mar­ket-based mech­a­nisms as a sil­ver bul­let, and warn not to use them to replace tra­di­tion­al reg­u­la­tions. The fun­ny thing about cap and trade and car­bon pric­ing is that it ends up get­ting a lot of air­space and atten­tion,” says Amy Van­der­wark­er, co-direc­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Alliance. A coali­tion of grass­roots groups around the state, her group works large­ly with com­mu­ni­ties impact­ed by oil and gas. Cal­i­for­nia has a whole range of strong reg­u­la­to­ry poli­cies on the books that are achiev­ing the major­i­ty of our green­house gas emis­sions, around 80 per­cent of them. Those reg­u­la­tions are absolute­ly crit­i­cal,” she says.

Con­verse­ly, one of the four pil­lars of the Cli­mate Lead­er­ship Council’s (CLC) car­bon div­i­dends plan, co-authored by Rea­gan Trea­sury Sec­re­tary James Bak­er III and Sec­re­tary of State George Schultz, is a sig­nif­i­cant reg­u­la­to­ry rollback.”

Much of the EPA’s reg­u­la­to­ry author­i­ty over car­bon diox­ide emis­sions would be phased out, includ­ing an out­right repeal of the Clean Pow­er Plan,” they sug­gest. Robust car­bon tax­es would also make pos­si­ble an end to fed­er­al and state tort lia­bil­i­ty for emit­ters.” It’s a goal they share with the oil and gas indus­try, mem­bers of which (Exxon­Mo­bil, Total, Shell, BP) have signed on as cor­po­rate found­ing mem­bers” of the CLC. California’s oil and gas lob­by — name­ly, WSPA — now hopes a sim­i­lar­ly-mind­ed one can beat out SB 775.

When oil com­pa­nies write policy

So if not SB 775, what is the pol­i­cy that California’s oil lob­by would rather advance? WSPA has been cir­cu­lat­ing a wish-list of rec­om­men­da­tions for the cap-and-trade program’s exten­sion via the law firm Lath­am & Watkins LLP since ear­ly April, obtained by In These Times. Brown’s admin­is­tra­tion has, in closed-door meet­ings, been con­sid­er­ing an alter­nate cap-and-trade pro­pos­al that close­ly mir­rors WSPA’s rec­om­men­da­tions, accord­ing to sources who received the pro­pos­als and pre­fer not to be named because of the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the nego­ti­a­tions. Two doc­u­ments, view­able here and here, appear to have been writ­ten by the governor’s office and are being cir­cu­lat­ed by Brown’s staff, the sources say. A third—the one that most close­ly resem­bles the lan­guage in WSPA’s wish­list—is sus­pect­ed by advo­cates to have been draft­ed direct­ly by WSPA. That document’s exact usage in cap-and-trade nego­ti­a­tions remains unclear.

The three pro­pos­als echo the WSPA’s wish­list in rec­om­mend­ing that the state hand over exclu­sive author­i­ty for reg­u­lat­ing green­house gasses to the Air Resources Board, the statewide air qual­i­ty reg­u­la­tor, and tak­ing that abil­i­ty out of the hands of the state’s air qual­i­ty dis­tricts. They also includes a much low­er and more grad­u­al­ly ris­ing price cap. The pro­pos­al sus­pect­ed to come from WSPA rec­om­mends spe­cif­ic reg­u­la­to­ry roll­backs for oil refineries.

While sev­er­al envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice groups have seen the leaked pro­pos­als, their exact ori­gins remain unknown. So far the doc­u­ments do not yet include either a spon­sor or a dock­et num­ber, although they fea­ture calls to:

  • Sig­nif­i­cant­ly roll back the author­i­ty of local air pol­lu­tion con­trol dis­tricts to reg­u­late the state’s oil refiner­ies, and build in spe­cif­ic pro­tec­tions from com­mand and con­trol-style reg­u­la­tions for oil and gas companies.

  • Main­tain pol­luters’ abil­i­ty to pur­chase offsets.

  • Not include a price floor on the price of per­mits, and much more grad­u­al­ly esca­late the ceiling

  • Con­tin­ue issu­ing free allowances to pol­lut­ing industries

A source close to the cap-and-trade fight, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty giv­en their ongo­ing work with the governor’s office, reports that the new lan­guage sur­faced after Brown and one of his top aides, Nan­cy McFad­den, had been meet­ing reg­u­lar­ly over the last sev­er­al weeks with emis­saries from the state’s extrac­tive indus­try, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of WSPA and Chevron. The source says that every time you walk past [the governor’s offices] you see the oil indus­try com­ing in and out.”

Again, it’s still not known who wrote the draft pro­pos­al lan­guage, or how exact­ly they’re being received in Brown’s admin­is­tra­tion. Beyond the lan­guage of the pro­pos­als, how­ev­er, SB 775 back­ers are con­cerned about the lack of trans­paren­cy sur­round­ing Brown’s deci­sion-mak­ing on cap-and-trade. The Los Ange­les Times last week report­ed that the governor’s office has been devel­op­ing draft pro­pos­als” for a cap and trade replace­ment and cir­cu­lat­ing them in the Capi­tol,” though none have been released to the pub­lic, and no one I spoke with had seen alter­nate pro­pos­als beyond those described above. If the gov­er­nor is push­ing oth­er pro­pos­als, we sim­ply haven’t seen them,” the source said. There’s no trans­paren­cy in what the governor’s doing. Nobody knows what the gov­er­nor is doing.” Wieck­ows­ki told In These Times that he has also not met with the gov­er­nor, though he did meet with Nan­cy McFad­den. Brown has also been invit­ed to sev­er­al meet­ings with SB 775 stake­hold­ers host­ed by Wieck­ows­ki and de León; no rep­re­sen­ta­tive from his office has attended.

Accord­ing to Van­der­wark­er — whose group con­sult­ed on and is push­ing for SB 775 — this would be noth­ing new. Our expe­ri­ence has been on car­bon pric­ing in par­tic­u­lar it has felt like Gov. Brown’s main nego­ti­at­ing part­ner has been big oil. The pro­pos­als their office has put out,” ref­er­enc­ing the doc­u­ments described above, are much more in line with their inter­ests than the inter­ests of the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice community.”

Advo­cates fear that the lan­guage will soon find its way into a Sen­ate or Assem­bly bill that enjoys Brown’s pub­lic bless­ing, and that the chances for get­ting SB 775 passed with a Brown-backed mea­sure on the table are slim to none. Asked about SB 775, a spokesper­son for Brown’s office told In These Times, We do not com­ment on pend­ing leg­is­la­tion,” but reaf­firmed the governor’s com­mit­ment to pass­ing an exten­sion of the cap and trade program.

Van­der­wark­er wor­ries that the office will pri­or­i­tize speedy pas­sage — even if that means com­pro­mise with indus­try — over a bill with teeth. It appears that the Brown admin­is­tra­tion is more inter­est­ed in get­ting a deal done this year than actu­al­ly get­ting a pol­i­cy in place that is able to help achieve our 2030 tar­gets,” she says.

The costs of a missed opportunity

SB 775’s future remains uncer­tain. The Cal­i­for­nia Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Alliance and oth­er grass­roots groups intend to con­tin­ue talk­ing with leg­is­la­tors as well as hold­ing reg­u­lar can­vass­es and phone banks to ensure the bill comes to a vote and is enact­ed. Wieck­ows­ki says he’ll con­tin­ue meet­ing with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers about the bill, includ­ing both envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and indus­try groups, in an attempt to mete out a solu­tion that sees SB 775 passed into law.

Beyond cur­tail­ing California’s abil­i­ty to cut down its own emis­sions, the oil industry’s rewrit­ing of cap-and-trade could have trou­bling impli­ca­tions on the nation­al and glob­al stage. With Brown evan­ge­liz­ing for cli­mate action, his back­ing of a watered-down mea­sure has the poten­tial to lim­it oth­er states’ ambi­tions. After all, why would a red or pur­ple state or even a less thor­ough­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic one pass a cli­mate pol­i­cy more bold than the one that emerged from California’s lib­er­al utopia?

As Van­der­wark­er puts it, It’s hard to imag­ine how we can main­tain this idea of California’s cli­mate lead­er­ship if we pass a pol­i­cy that amounts to such a big give­away for big oil.”

After this sto­ry was pub­lished, the gov­er­nor’s office wrote In These Times to com­plain of what they termed inac­cu­ra­cies, innu­en­do, mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions and bogus con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries” and elab­o­rat­ed as follows:

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, through­out the piece, the author cher­ry-picks indi­vid­ual pro­vi­sions – pro­vid­ed piece­meal by third par­ties inter­est­ed in taint­ing nego­ti­a­tions from the onset – to mis­char­ac­ter­ize the administration’s efforts, as well as the sub­stance and source of the mea­sures being dis­cussed. To be clear, our office is work­ing with every­one: leg­is­la­tors, envi­ron­men­tal groups, util­i­ties, indus­try, econ­o­mists, agri­cul­tur­al and busi­ness orga­ni­za­tions, the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice com­mu­ni­ty and many oth­ers to reach an agreement. 

Our role from the start has been to con­vene par­ties with dif­fer­ent inter­ests and to facil­i­tate the exchange of ideas and lan­guage to see where we can find com­mon ground. Con­trary to what’s implied through­out this piece, our sin­gu­lar focus is on ensur­ing Cal­i­for­nia remains at the fore­front in the fight to clean our air and curb car­bon pollution.

That same focus is what led the Gov­er­nor to com­mit to reduc­ing today’s petro­le­um use in cars and trucks by up to 50 per­cent with­in the next 15 years. And it’s why the Gov­er­nor signed leg­is­la­tion to: estab­lish the most ambi­tious green­house gas emis­sion reduc­tion tar­gets in North Amer­i­ca; set the nation’s tough­est restric­tions on destruc­tive super pol­lu­tants; gen­er­ate half of the state’s elec­tric­i­ty from renew­able sources by 2030; and dou­ble the rate of ener­gy effi­cien­cy sav­ings in Cal­i­for­nia buildings. 

All of this may not fit the author’s nefar­i­ous nar­ra­tive, but our com­mit­ment to lead­ing on cli­mate change has not wavered.

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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