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Fran Pavley: Environmental star plays on world’s stage

To the extent there are such things as environmental rock stars, former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley is one. But you wouldn’t know it in California.

Pavley, author of two nationally imitated and internationally renowned bills to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, is hardly well-known in a state where Hollywood rules and a former action movie hero is a sitting governor. These days, however, Fran is an environmental A-lister.

Talk to any air-quality regulator outside the Golden State and you’ll likely hear them refer not to the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, but simply “the Pavley bill.” Senator Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, herself a former TV celebrity, describes what it’s like to hold meetings with the schoolteacher-turned global-warming expert.

“They go around the table and different people will say, ‘Well, we’re enacting the Pavley bill here, and we’re doing this like the Pavley bill there.’ And they finally get to her and she says, ‘Well, I’m Pavley,’ and they’re completely stunned,” says Kuehl, a Senate point person on environmental issues.

Pavley told Capitol Weekly that she had just come home from an international conference on climate change in Sussex, England, days before. That day, she was traveling to Sacramento from her home near Los Angeles to speak at the California Air Resources Board’s workshop on Global Climate Change and Public Health and to accept an award for her leadership in air-quality policy.

This soft-spoken woman, with salt-and-pepper hair and a polite smile befitting her past life as a middle-school civics teacher, indeed seems an unlikely heroine for the global-warming cause. But that’s what she is: First, she authored the landmark 2003 law to curb carbon emissions from vehicles. Then, last year she authored AB 32, which applies first-in-the-nation emission limits to factories and other stationary emitters.
Even her critics–and there are many, especially those involved in the lawsuits prompted by the rules she authored–agree that those who underestimated her in the past have been sorely mistaken.

Spending 28 years as a teacher at Chaparral Middle School in Moorpark, Pavley was also very active in local politics. Leading the charge for cityhood in Agoura Hills due to what residents believed was runaway growth, Pavley became the city’s first mayor in 1982.

Louise Rishoff, who served 10 years on the city council with Pavley and later staffed her Assembly district office, says her background in environmental issues stretches far back. “She was fiercely protective of the open spaces, the ridge lines, the oak trees,” recalls Rishoff.

Rishoff believes there was some indication that Pavley would be a groundbreaker. “She was a visionary right out of the gate. Everybody could see that.” Pavley’s service on the California Coastal Commission and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy helped whet her appetite for environmental policymaking before her arrival to Sacramento.

As a freshman legislator in 2000, Pavley introduced AB 1493, what longtime environmental advocate V. John White calls a “little, two-paragraph bill” that didn’t get much notice at first. This little bill, which sought to limit automobile emissions starting with 2009 models, would take on some of the most organized and influential interests: car manufacturers and dealerships.

Pavley says it was almost by accident. “I didn’t really understand the scope of the opposition. To me, cleaning up the air, addressing global warming was sort of motherhood and apple pie.”

As the opposition mounted, however, Pavley discovered that the auto industry didn’t feel the same. A coalition of car manufacturers, oil companies and auto dealerships mounted an aggressive campaign, hinging on conservative radio talk shows and glossy advertisements.

Pavley says their “campaign of misinformation” included claims that the bill would allow the Air Resources Board to levy taxes on gasoline and restrict individual mileage.

White recalls the rhetoric morphed as “the nasty talk show hosts


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