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Climate shifts on global-warming law

A Senate leader accuses Gov. Schwarzenegger of undermining the landmark legislation.

October 24, 2006|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The bipartisan good feeling that followed the passage last month of a landmark California law to reduce global warming is starting to sour.

Harsh words came Monday from the Senate president pro tem, who in a letter accused the governor of subverting parts of the law with an executive order to fast-track plans for a system that would allow industry to sell or trade pollution credits.

"The executive order is ill-timed and unnecessary, and creates confusion at this early stage in the implementation of the law," Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland) wrote. "Its substance and process undermine the bipartisan spirit and cooperation in which the law was passed and signed earlier this year."

Perata asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to rescind the order, which would create an advisory committee to study pollution-credit trading. But the governor said no.

"The executive order carries out both the spirit and intent" of the legislation to combat global warming, said Margita Thompson, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman.

The global warming bill, AB 32, the nation's most ambitious effort to combat global climate change, has a goal of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 25% by 2020.

The law, which will be phased in over eight years, beginning in 2012, gives government a number of tools for cutting carbon dioxide, including energy efficiency measures, alternative fuels and regulatory caps and the creation of markets for pollution-credit trading.

But Perata and some environmentalists, who backed AB 32, complain that Schwarzenegger is moving too quickly to push the legislation toward a market-based system of trading rights to pollute and away from traditional regulation.

Perata also criticized the governor for attempting to put a Cabinet official, the secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, in charge of the state's global warming effort. The new law specifically gives that responsibility to the independent California Air Resources Board.

The senator's letter echoes comments made last week by AB 32's author, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles).

"I will not allow the governor to rewrite the legislation through an executive order," Nunez said.

Criticism from the Legislature's two top Democrats could spell trouble for the law during its crucial first year, said Bill Magavern, an environmental lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

"The governor cut the era of good feelings short with his executive order," Magavern said. "I think we all want to work together, but the lines of division are becoming clear."

He noted that so-called environmental justice groups, which advocate for people who live near industrial sites, were worried that they would continue to be threatened by pollution from plants kept open through the purchase of credits.

Environmental activists, however, are split on the issue of pollution trading and the governor's order. "I don't see anything in this executive order that surprises me at all," said Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The governor unveiled the executive order a week ago during a visit to New York. Schwarzenegger told New York Gov. George Pataki that he planned to form a greenhouse gas trading partnership between California and a group of seven Northeastern states spearheaded by Pataki.

Such a market-based approach is favored by large businesses, which dislike costly regulation. They praised the order for bringing clarity to a process they fear could force them to scale back operations.

The California Manufacturers and Technology Assn., though it opposed the global warming bill, is backing the governor's executive order for starting to fill in blanks in what is likely to be a costly law.

"The sooner the agencies can create some structure, the less uncertainty there will be for many companies and the economy," said Dorothy Rothrock, the trade group's senior vice president.

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marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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