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Governor’s global warming policy needs close look

If you listen to Jerry Brown, you would think he was one of the foremost proactive climate change leaders around.  At UC Berkeley last week, he said, “the changes in our climate are…, soon to be irreversible” (May 20th, 2013). .  On May 23rd, the Sacramento Bee reported that Governor Brown “complained bitterly” that “the news media ignores climate change.”  Naturally, you would think he would proudly lead in implementing AB 32, this state’s pioneering climate law to address global warming. Right?

 

Wrong.

 

This Governor talks a great game, but he is not walking the walk.  In his May Revise budget, he recklessly proposed diverting money dedicated to fighting climate pollution. The Legislature should correct this ill-considered proposal.

 

Part of AB32’s genius is that it created a revenue source from polluter fees to help remediate global warming: the auction of pollution allowances under the Cap and Trade  (C&T) program generates hundreds of millions of new dollars to fight global warming—investment sorely needed if we are to have any hope of reducing the soaring rise of CO2 emissions.

 

But the Governor’ s May Revise proposal instead uses all $500 million of C&T revenue as a loan for the General Fund despite the fact that the $500 million loan would simply further increase a rainy day reserve!  And, this has the added cost of having to repay the loan with interest. For a fiscally conservative Governor, this makes no sense economically or ecologically.  Paying the interest on such a loan costs the state more money than investing the money to reduce pollution.  Further, investing the revenue to reduce carbon emissions also generates jobs and stimulates new economic activity.

 

Global carbon dioxide concentrations exceeded 400 parts per million earlier this month…. for the first time in 800,000 years. The Governor noted this in his Berkeley speech; surely he realizes that delaying action favors the ongoing disaster?  Well, now the Legislature has a chance to correct Mr. Brown’s misguided proposal, instead implementing a well developed plan the Governors Administration actually led a few months earlier.

 

The Brown Administration, with ample public input, has spent the last six months developing a thoughtful Investment Plan for these funds which identifies three broad areas for effective and legal uses of these funds: reducing emissions from transportation, increasing energy efficiency, and decreasing forest loss and degradation of natural systems.  While energy efficiency has a new dedicated funding source from the recent passage of Proposition 39, the other two are woefully underfunded. Indeed, investment in preventing forest and other natural systems loss has been severely reduced—and indeed has never been a significant budget item.  California’s only real investments in protecting our forest carbon banks have been through various bond-funded programs, which are nearly exhausted.   Perhaps this is why California has already lost over 40% of its forests, even though these are amongst the most productive and effective carbon banks globally.

 

Investing now in forest conservation and restoration would reduce millions of tons of CO2 emissions over the next few years—simultaneously protecting our threatened water sources, enhancing wildlife habitat, and providing needed jobs in underemployed parts of the state.  This would also complement the regulatory actions under AB32, helping reduce overall emissions faster than through these alone.

 

The Governor has urged others to act now to fight global warming.  The Legislature should do as he said, and change what he did in the May Revise.

 

Noting that the Governor has lowballed revenue estimates by several billion dollars as compared to the independent Legislative Analyst, the Senate and Assembly have adopted alternative revenue forecasts that anticipate a more realistic amount of revenue.  Given this additional revenue, the Legislature should abandon the Governor’s misguided proposal to loan the auction revenue to the General Fund.  Instead they should direct these climate auction funds as the law intended, and as is urgently needed to address the climate crisis and stimulate economic investment. Senator Steinberg and Perez have previously shown great climate leadership. Speaker Perez authored AB 1532, establishing a framework for the use of the auction revenue, and Senator Steinberg’s SB 375, the landmark law created incentives for smart growth’s climate benefits.  Ensuring that C&T revenues are used for solid, shovel-ready investments in this budget will further their legacy of important climate legislation.

 

Then, the Governor will be given the chance to do as he says, and set a global example on how to really fight global warming—with deeds, not words.

Ed’s Note: Laurie Wayburn is president and co-founder of Pacific Forest Trust.


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