An ambitious goal to reduce California’s oil consumption by 50 percent over the next 15 years has been dropped from key climate change legislation, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders announced Wednesday, a victim of a bitter campaign waged against the bill by petroleum companies.
Brown said the oil industry had “won the skirmish but will lose the war,” insisting the state can still reach the 50 percent target through its existing regulatory structure, without immediately enshrining the target into law.
“Nothing is a bigger threat than climate change,” a defiant Brown said late Wednesday afternoon, two days before the end of the legislative session — the deadline for Senate Bill 350 to get a vote this year.
The governor and SB350’s main architect, Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said the oil industry’s main goal was actually to include provisions in SB350 that would strip power from the California Air Resources Board, the regulatory agency that has overseen the state’s ambitious push toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The board has been a frequent target of Republicans and business groups opposed to the state’s already-ambitious climate change laws.
“Look, we had a long discussion. It’s very simple — if we said, ‘Turn every rule that the ARB makes over to the Legislature,’ then we get the bill, if we don’t do that, then (they) kill it,” Brown said of negotiations with oil companies in recent days.
But he added, “California is not going to miss a beat, be very clear about that. We don’t have a declaration in statute, but we have absolutely the same authority we had going forward. The only difference is my zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree, and nothing is going to stop the state from pushing forward.”
The biggest hurdle for Brown, de León and liberal Democrats ended up being moderate members of their own party — particularly in the state Assembly — who sided with critics of the Air Resources Board.
An hour before the governor’s news conference, Modesto Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray — who penned an opinion piece against SB350 — stood up on the Assembly floor to urge lawmakers to demand more say in the air board’s decisions.
The governor hit back at his news conference, saying a drastic shift in oil consumption would fundamentally change the world’s economy and that it’s no surprise there was a big fight when he proposed “cutting sales of the most powerful industry in the world by 50 percent.”
“What we did do in this bill, however, is not cave in to the last-minute effort by big oil to strip the power of the Air Resources Board,” Brown said. “Make no mistake about it, this is a titanic struggle that will go on for years and decades. But at the end, science, the religious leadership of the world, ordinary people will triumph.”
A somber de León said that while Brown doesn’t need legislative authority to push a reduction in oil consumption, having it in law would ensure the state continues in that direction in future years. He noted that SB350 still includes other ambitious mandates, including a steep increase in renewable energy.
“We reached for something grand and something doable, while the world once again waited to take its cues from California. But in the end, with two days left, we could not cut through the multimillion-dollar smoke screen created by a single interest group with a singular motive and a bottomless war chest,” he said. “But with the clocks ticking, the stakes are way too high to let the perfect be the enemy of the great.”
The leader of the Western States Petroleum Association, which led the SB350 opposition, said the agency and its members “remain committed” to working with state leaders on the issue but did take a position on the amended legislation.
“Today’s announcement was an acknowledgement that California’s energy future, economic competitiveness, and environment are inextricably linked,” said WSPA president Catherine Reheis-Boyd in a written statement. “Californians are best served by inclusive energy policy and by a legislative body that retains authority on issues so critically important to jobs, communities and our way of life.”
Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said she’s hopeful that the amended bill will pass the Assembly before legislators go home for the year on Friday.