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Gov. Backs Greenhouse Gas Strategy

Aides say he plans to endorse the far-ranging program to curb global warming today, despite opposition from GOP and business leaders.

April 11, 2006|Janet Wilson and Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will announce today his support for a strategy to combat global warming that has drawn criticism from Republicans and business leaders, aides said Monday.

The market-based approach would include controversial "cap-and-trade" requirements mandating greenhouse gas producers who exceed certain tonnages of harmful emissions to buy credits from other companies that have lowered emissions.

Schwarzenegger is expected to make the announcement, endorsing major components of his climate action team's plan, at a summit he has convened in San Francisco this afternoon bringing together economists, investors, business executives, environmentalists and lawmakers.

Legislative approval could be needed to enact key elements of the 1,300-page plan, including the cap-and-trade system and a registry for businesses to report the amounts of greenhouse gases they emit.

Terry Tamminen, special advisor to the governor on environment and energy issues, said that under the market-based program, power plants, for instance, would be able to buy emissions credits not just from other power plants but also from other industries, including timber companies that set aside forests to trap carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas. Tamminen said such broad access to the credit market would help to drive prices down.

Limited versions of such market-based programs are operating in Chicago and Europe, he said, adding that California's would go much further. Schwarzenegger has said he wants to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050, putting the state ahead of the rest of the world.

Tamminen said one-third of those reductions could come from a market-based cap-and-trade program. The plan calls for two years of study to design the program.

Cap-and-trade programs are opposed by the Bush administration as well as by many of Schwarzenegger's business backers, including major oil companies and the California Chamber of Commerce.

Allan Zaremberg, president of the chamber, said his members would "be concerned about any cap program that encourages arbitrary reductions in emissions and encourages companies to migrate operations to other parts of the world where there are no carbon dioxide controls."

Tamminen said industries had expressed similar concerns 35 years ago when the Clean Air Act was put into place but had not left the state or hurt the economy through compliance.

Another high-ranking administration source said that Schwarzenegger was well aware of the business concerns and wanted careful study and design but that it would happen.

"He's endorsing the concept and saying we need to have this, but there's an acknowledgment this has to be done carefully," the source said.

By making the endorsement, the incumbent governor will be siding with environmentalists and Democrats in an election year, a strategy some Republican strategists said could work in his favor.

GOP analyst Dan Schnur, who teaches public policy at USC, said Schwarzenegger "outflanked" his Democratic challengers by having his climate action team unfurl the lengthy report last week and will win over mainstream voters in both parties who want something done about global warming.

Recent polls back him up. In June, the Public Policy Institute of California found that 69% of Californians surveyed said they supported the governor's global warming reduction targets. A national Republican polling firm recently found that American voters believe by more than 2 to 1 it is possible to reduce the effects of global warming.

But others said it could hurt him, particularly with Republican Party regulars who oppose government regulation and who are key to campaigning and getting out the vote.

"He's walking a fine line," said Larry Gersten, a political science professor at San Jose State. "He's trying to ... scoop up those votes he had in 2003 without losing the votes on the right, and he's in a rather precarious position."

Philosophical differences among Schwarzenegger's staffers, legal challenges by automakers and hostile actions by the Bush administration could also stymie pieces of the plan.

One-third of the greenhouse gas reductions outlined in the climate action team's report would come from a tailpipe control law already in place, sponsored by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). Automakers are challenging that law in court, arguing that California does not have the legal right to regulate carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

"This is a tough case," said lawyer Jim Marston of Environmental Defense, a national environmental group that has intervened on the automakers' lawsuit. He said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also needs to sign a waiver approving the Pavley law and said California might have to wait for a new president for that to happen.

But he said California has quietly inserted a police powers clause into laws giving them the right to regulate greenhouse gases to protect public health.

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