Dispute over greenhouse-gas law comes down to power play

Shortly before he signed California’s landmark greenhouse-gas-emissions law, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger privately told the Legislature’s Democratic leaders to accept 11th-hour changes demanded by business interests or he would refuse to sign the law. The most significant piece of greenhouse-gas legislation in the nation, and the governor’s ultimate photo op, were in jeopardy.

The Democrats’ reply, which was communicated to the governor just hours before the bill passed off the Assembly floor, was a pithy “no way.” The governor backed down and signed the bill, then publicly made nice with legislative leaders.

And that, everyone thought, was that.

Not quite. Weeks later, after the cameras were off and after California was lauded as a national leader in fighting carbon emissions and Schwarzenegger was praised as the nation’s “greenest governor,” he issued an executive order that stunned environmentalists who supported the bill. The order, in the view of some in the environmental community and the legislative leaders who negotiated the bill with the governor, sought to weaken the program before it started and to limit the power of the state Air Resources Board. The 11-member board, its members all appointed by the governor but with a reputation of independence, is the nation’s premier air-quality enforcer. Its rules often serve as templates for other states, especially in the industrialized Northeast.

During negotiations that led up to the passage of the new law, environmentalists sought a dominant role for the ARB.

At issue is power: Who will have the top authority over the new law, which is supposed to cut carbon and other emissions by one-fourth by 2020?
“Who gets the oversight: Is it the Air Resources Board or the Cal-EPA?” said Alicia Dlugosh, spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who denounced Schwarzenegger’s executive order.

“I think it could put in jeopardy the implementation of the law,” said Gary Patton executive director of the Planning and Conservation League. “What everybody should understand is that as long business interests think that there is some way to not have to spend the money to reduce emissions, they will be thinking of ways to avoid it,” he added.

In effect, Schwarzenegger’s October 18 order sought to change the way that critical pieces of the law are put into effect. His order, unlike the signing, did not receive international attention.

Schwarzenegger’s order was “totally inconsistent with the intent of the law and with the way it was written,” an angry Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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