SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday threw his political weight behind a drive to curb greenhouse gas emissions but cautioned that the fight to reduce global warming should be done in a "sensible and deliberate way" to protect jobs.
Speaking at a global warming summit in San Francisco, Schwarzenegger called for heavy industries, such as power plants, refineries and factories, to begin reporting of emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to climate change, as called for in his recently issued climate action plan.
He stressed that the reporting would provide the basis for creating "the world's best market-based system" for limiting greenhouse emissions.
Although he pledged to cooperate with similar efforts pending in the state Legislature, the governor stopped short of endorsing a Democratic bill that would cap the amount of carbon dioxide that could be released into the atmosphere by individual businesses.
"We don't want to go after business and make business leave the state," Schwarzenegger said. "We want to give them time."
Schwarzenegger said he wanted to find a "happy medium" and suggested that lawmakers and regulators should put off developing a system to cap and trade emissions until after 2010, when the California Environmental Protection Agency will have completed a detailed study of the buying and selling of credits that would allow a company to emit controlled levels of greenhouse gases.
The bill, supported by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), would make limits on greenhouse gases state law as early as January. The caps would take effect in 2012 after the California Air Resources Board developed a plan that would begin ratcheting down allowable emissions.
The limits would be tightened in successive years until reaching a 2020 target, set by Schwarzenegger, of 25% below forecast levels.
Business leaders participating in the summit were divided over the governor's proposal. A cement company executive said his industry opposed any effort by the state to limit greenhouse gas releases.
"We think it will force jobs out of the state and overseas," said Tom Tietz of the California Nevada Cement Promotion Council. Cement manufacturers use large amounts of energy to operate kilns that produce carbon dioxide.
By contrast, Peter A. Darbee, the chairman and chief executive of PG&E Corp., the corporate parent of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a Northern California investor-owned utility, praised the governor for providing leadership for regional and national efforts to tackle global warming.
"California will serve as a model, but we will need to work out the details to make sure we get it right," Darbee said.
But environmentalists, who had been heartened by leaks that Schwarzenegger was siding with them, said they were disappointed that the governor did not commit to the Nunez-Pavley bill and appeared unwilling to move as quickly as the Democrats.
"He punted," said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club. "He doesn't want to consider a cap until 2010. He seems to be pushing the ball into the future."
Karen Douglas, director of climate programs for the group Environmental Defense, challenged the governor not to wait for studies before passing a bill that puts California on record as backing firm limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
She said Schwarzenegger needs to "walk the walk" on global warming by helping to get the Nunez-Pavley bill passed and signing it this year.
Though it's early in the legislative season to handicap bills, environmentalists said they were confident that the Democrats who control both the Assembly and the Senate could send the governor a bill with tough greenhouse gas emission limits.
Schwarzenegger is committed to signing a bill that puts greenhouse gas reduction targets into law but only if the measure is "thoughtful and gradual," said Terry Tamminen, the governor's top advisor for the environment and energy.
He said that, based on experiences in the Northeastern states and in Europe, designing a workable cap-and-trade program could take up to two years to complete.
At minimum, Schwarzenegger is likely to sign legislation calling for mandatory reporting of emissions before lawmakers recess for the year in late August.
"We're committed to working this out," Tamminen said.