California legislature passes climate change bills

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California lawmakers voted to extend the state’s climate change fighting efforts out to 2030 on Wednesday, giving a new lease on life to the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction program in the country.

The state Senate voted 25-13 in support of a bill that sets a target of cutting the state’s output of heat-trapping emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The state is currently on track to meet its 2020 goal of reducing emissions back to 1990 levels.

The vote came hours after the state Assembly passed a linked bill to increase legislative oversight of the climate change programs run by the California Air Resources Board by a vote of 44-28.

Both bills will now go to Governor Jerry Brown, who has said he will sign them.

Senator Fran Pavley, the author of the 2006 law that set the state’s first emission reduction target, said that effort has generated billions of dollars in investment in the state’s clean energy sector while creating jobs and reducing emissions.

“Today’s action will ensure the state remains on its prosperous and healthy course,” she said.

At a press conference, Brown said the legislation would impact all industries in the state from oil refining and agriculture to building construction and public utilities.

“It’s about the world in which we live becoming decarbonized and sustainable,” he said. “These regulations will work to achieve that goal,” he said.

Opponents said the emissions targets have caused job losses in the communities they represent.

“The impacts in my county are immense,” Senate Republican Leader Jean Fuller, who represents Bakersfield, said prior to the vote on Wednesday.

She said the current policies have driven hundreds of energy jobs out of her county, which is home to oil producers and manufacturers.

“The changes it has brought to our economy are unforgiveable,” she said.

Lawmakers did not address a central threat to the state’s carbon cap-and-trade program from the California Chamber of Commerce, which has filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s quarterly carbon permit auctions amount to an illegal tax on businesses.

Both climate bills are silent on the question of what policy mechanisms - such as cap and trade - should be used to achieve the 2030 goal.

Brown, a staunch supporter of cap and trade, told reporters all options, including a ballot measure in 2018, were on the table to ensure the future of the carbon market.