By Nick Cahill
, Courthouse News
SACRAMENTO (CN) – In a move that could freeze California Gov. Jerry Brown’s hopes for extending the state’s cap-and-trade program, state Republicans said Thursday they are uniformly against the recently proposed deal.
The plan for extending the sunsetting emissions tax, a focal point of California’s climate-change policy, is scheduled for a floor vote on Monday and requires a two-thirds supermajority.
If Republican lawmakers collectively vote against the plan, Brown will need to secure support from every Democratic member for Assembly Bill 398 to pass. That would require smoothing over a coalition of moderate Democrats from agricultural districts that have been hesitant to pass new taxes.
Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes claims Brown and Democratic leaders have shut out Republicans from the bargaining table and that a cap-and-trade agreement “remains elusive.”
“There are no Assembly Republican votes for the cap-and-trade deal in its current form. We will not support a deal that doesn’t cut taxes, roll back regulations and protect ordinary Californians,” Mayes said in a statement.
A collection of Republican state senators joined Mayes and announced their opposition to the current cap-and-trade deal in a letter sent to Brown.
With the cap-and-trade extension announced Monday night, Brown stumped for the plan and testified Thursday at a Senate committee.
The fourth-term governor, in a rare committee appearance, told lawmakers that the climate-change plan is the “most important vote of your life.” He warned that if the extension doesn’t pass, state regulators will be forced to enforce the state’s stringent air quality laws on their own and without lawmakers’ input.
“This isn’t for me. I’m going to be dead,” the 79-year-old governor testified. “It’s for you. And it’s damn real.”
Brown’s plan has been met with skepticism from not only Republicans but some environmentalists as well. They claim the proposal gives utility companies and the oil and gas industry handouts and allows them to continue emitting greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s a California climate policy that’s been written by big oil,” said Amy Vanderwarker, co-director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “At a time when all eyes are on California, we have to stand strong and say this is not something we can support.”
Vanderwarker testified in opposition to AB 398 on Thursday.
“It does not get us to the real, rapid emissions reductions that our planet and our communities desperately need,” she said.
Critics take issue with the heavy tax breaks for businesses included in the new plan, such as sales tax exemptions for certain equipment purchases. The plan also ends a contentious fire-prevention tax that conservatives have fought since it was enacted.
Extending the cap-and-trade program would be a political victory for Brown in his final term.
The current program requires businesses to obtain permits for carbon emissions and allows them to purchase additional use permits if needed. Revenue generated from the permits funds major state infrastructure projects, including the high-speed rail project.
Brown crafted the plan with the Democratic leaders of both the state Senate and the Assembly after months of negotiations. He wants two-thirds support, the threshold for passing new taxes, in order to protect against future legal challenges.
The extension has quickly gained the support of some of the state’s most influential interest groups.
“AB 398 will provide the least costly path to achieving our climate goals by extending cap and trade to 2030,” the California Chamber of Commerce said in a support letter. “The measure will help California maintain a healthy economy that produces well-paid, middle-class jobs.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council says it will stand by the cap-and-trade extension despite concessions to the oil and energy industries.
“The concessions to industry are bitter pills, but on balance the package ensures our emissions limits are enforceable against polluters and secures critical gains to improve air quality for millions of Californians,” the council’s legal director Alex Jackson said in a statement.
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