Jerry Brown Obsessed With Cutting Fossil Fuel Use By 50%

Governor Jerry Brown has been obsessed with cutting fuel use in California by 50 percent by 2030 ever since he was handed a rare legislative defeat on his plan during the last session of the legislature.

Oil companies spent up to $12 million on commercials to drive up public support in 2015 to strip SB 350, another climate change bill, of the provisions slashing petroleum use in half. When the legislative battle was over, Governor Brown acknowledged defeat but vowed to continue the fight.

“Oil has won the skirmish. But they’ve lost the bigger battle,” he said. “Because I am more determined than ever … we’re not going to miss a beat.”

Multiple Strategies to Implement What Legislatively Denied
He is not going to try to force a new bill through this legislature, but is publically using other tools such as the state budget and regulatory action from state agencies. Not so publically, the governor is using other methods.

Former Assembly Member Perea

One of the behind-the-scenes strategies Brown is using is to replace legislators who opposed his will on fuel use with more complacent Assembly members. The June primary election will feature several fights on the Democratic ballot where incumbents are fighting to keep their seats.

In Fresno, one of the most prominent opponents, Henry T. Perea, resigned in December, and was replaced by Dr. Joaquin Arambula, in a special election April 5th, where Arambula touted his environmental credentials.

Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, the unofficial leader of the body’s powerful moderate bloc, announced his resignation from office effective the end of December 2015 to take a job as an advocate at the Capitol. Perea would have been forced from the Assembly by term limits after 2016.

Although Perea earned an annual salary of $97,197 as a lawmaker, high-ranking governmental advocates at the Capitol generally have far greater earning potential. Perea, took a lucrative Sacramento job lobbying for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, better known as PhRMA. That’s the main lobbying arm of drug companies often collectively called Big Pharma.

Legislative leaders know what’s going on and while they supported the governor’s reduction plan, they still think he should go the legislative route. The leadership knows that without the force of law, any action Brown takes will remain at risk of being dismantled by a future governor once he leaves office in 2018. Right now the likely candidates for that job are Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and State Treasurer John Chiang, both Democrats, but with big differences in their approach to government.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said some Democrats framed their opposition of SB 350 as a desire for greater oversight of the powerful Air Resources Board, which would have had discretion over how to implement it.

“If that’s the issue, then maybe the governor and I should be looking at that,” Rendon said. Otherwise, he added, pouring funds into the same goal could make it difficult to reach consensus on the governor’s new plan.

There is agreement from the State Senate.

“I do remain of the strong belief that [defining petroleum targets] statutorily is the best way to do it,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

Pulling on Other Levers
Until he gets control over the legislature, Governor Brown is, like the Wizard of Oz, pulling other levers behind the curtain.

The budget the governor submitted to the Legislature this year proposed spending a third of the state’s cap-and-trade funds, about $1 billion, on public transit, promoting electric vehicles and other programs, all with the explicit goal of cutting oil use by 50 percent. Those dollars were collected through the auction of pollution credits to companies that emit greenhouse gases and as we report elsewhere in this issue, the funding source may be in trouble (see “CARB Cap and Trade Auction Falls Short” page 32).

His five-year infrastructure plan and Caltrans’s “California Transportation Plan 2040” both focus on a “fix it first” approach limiting highway construction to maintenance projects, patching up existing highways rather than adding new road capacity.

His obsessions with fuel reduction shows up in strategic documents from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which both manages the state’s cap-and-trade program and has control authority to regulate air pollution.

CARB estimates that existing policies already will get California to a 25 percent reduction in petroleum consumption by 2030. Figures put forth by the auto industry estimate the figure could be even higher.

Industry leaders are now closely watching the budget negotiations.

The Western States Petroleum Assn., the industry’s largest lobbying organization, said in a statement, “If the governor is going to push these expenditures forward, he will need to demonstrate to the Legislature, and the people of California, how proposed spending can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

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