California Climate Coalition Can’t Agree on Implementation

Published December 1, 2006

The feel-good political announcement of the 2006 election season–that California would be cutting carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020–is already being hit with a heavy dose of reality.

The coalition of supporters that steered A.B. 32, the “California Global Warming Solutions Act,” through the state legislature is fracturing and accusing each other of betraying the law, while analysts predict the law’s goals will never be reached anyway.

Governor’s Order Lambasted

Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) threw some verbal haymakers at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on October 16, saying Schwarzenegger was claiming too much power under the law. Schwarzenegger had announced earlier in the day that he planned to sign an executive order giving Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), oversight of part of the law’s implementation and the power to create a committee of experts to study and recommend market-based options for cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

Núñez took exception to the planned executive order, asserting Schwarzenegger had no power to give the CalEPA secretary such powers. He criticized Schwarzenegger for emphasizing market-based approaches.

“You can’t rewrite a law through executive order,” said Núñez for an October 16 San Francisco Chronicle article. “This is totally inconsistent with the intent of the law and with the way that it is written.

“He’s injecting a new agency into this that was never agreed to in the legislation,” Núñez added.

Clarification or Renegotiation?

Schwarzenegger administration officials responded the executive order was merely intended to clarify the law, which barely survived negotiations between Núñez and Schwarzenegger at the close of the 2005-2006 legislative session.

During the negotiations, Schwarzenegger sought to have Cabinet secretaries oversee the development of programs designed to reach carbon dioxide reduction mandates. Núñez insisted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) should have the power.

Schwarzenegger wanted a market-based emissions trading system to be established to meet the law’s mandates, while Núñez preferred command-and-control mechanisms. The law ultimately left the decision to CARB, stipulating that CARB must at least consider market-based mechanisms.

CalEPA Oversight Challenged

Schwarzenegger said his planned executive order would empower Adams to gather a committee of experts to design an emissions trading market. The executive order also would direct Adams to begin conducting economic analyses of various approaches to cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

While agreeing CARB would ultimately draft rules to implement the law, Adams insisted, “It’s critical that I continue to play that oversight role and coordinating role,” according to the October 17 San Francisco Chronicle.

“He’s trying to get back by executive order what he failed to get in negotiations with the legislature,” charged Bill Magavern, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle story.

Mandates May Never Occur

While the battle between former political allies erupted, analysts questioned whether the law will have much effect.

“A.B. 32 is a classic example of politicians making promises that will not have to be kept until far in the future after they have left office,” said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “History is full of such promises never being kept.”

Taylor cited as examples the 1970 Clean Air Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act, where goals and deadlines mandated by the laws never were met.

“Nor is the California legislature a stranger to such unkept promises,” Taylor said. “In 1990 the state mandated that 2 percent of cars sold in the state in 1998, 5 percent sold in 2001, and 10 percent sold in 2003 be ‘zero-emission vehicles.’ The pie-in-the-sky promises made in 1990 were never met by future legislators, who had no intention of paying the political price for the unpopular real-world programs that would be necessary to implement the mandates.

“Expect the same thing to happen with A.B. 32, even if Schwarzenegger and Núñez can patch up their ever-growing rift over the new law,” Taylor predicted.

Bureaucracy a Wildcard

Tom Tanton, a senior fellow with the Institute for Energy Research, agreed with Taylor’s assessment of the rift but is not so sure the bureaucracy will abandon A.B. 32.

“The future of A.B. 32 will not be in the hands of politicians, but in the hands of regulators and bureaucrats–two groups who seldom listen to the public,” Tanton said.

“Also, the rules under A.B. 32 will only fall onto the shoulders of businesses, with consumers more or less blind to those rules,” added Tanton. “The zero-emissions vehicle mandates expected the consumer to pony up money while accepting poor performance, so consumers would have felt the pain directly. Taylor may be right, but I’m less convinced.”

James Hoare ([email protected]) is an attorney practicing in Syracuse, New York.