California Democrats Drop Plan for 50 Percent Oil Cut

Source: By ADAM NAGOURNEY, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015

Rush hour in Los Angeles. Moderate Democrats said the oil plan would have hurt economically struggling parts of the state. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times 

LOS ANGELES — In a major setback for environmental advocates in California, Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate Democrats abandoned a 50 percent cut in petroleum use by 2030 that was a centerpiece of emissions legislation, blaming an intense campaign against the mandate by the oil industry.

The measure, the latest and most ambitious part of a series of legislation and regulations by the state to significantly curb greenhouse gas emissions over the next 35 years, passed the Democratic-controlled Senate but faced almost certain defeat in the Assembly, where Democrats are also in control but tend to be more moderate and represent economically struggling parts of the state. Opponents had warned that the 50 percent mandate would result in higher fuel and electricity costs; the oil industry, in its advertisements, asserted that it could lead to fuel rationing and bans on sport utility vehicles.

Backers described those allegations as false — the bill does not mention rationing or any other specific measures — but those arguments seemed to go far in coalescing opposition to the bill. The decision on how to carry out the proposed cuts would have been left to the state’s Air Resources Board, a matter of strong concern to many lawmakers.

“Big Oil might be on the right side of their shareholder reports, but we’re on the right side of history,” Kevin de Leon, the Senate Democratic leader and main champion of the bill, said in announcing the decision. “And ultimately, California is going to demand that an industry which represents most of the problem has an economic and moral duty to be part of the solution.”

The petroleum cut was intended to help produce an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, using 1990 emission levels as a baseline, an ambitious program that had become a showpiece for environmentalists across the United States, and had been championed first by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and later by Mr. Brown. Until this week, the action on environmental measures in California stood in stark contrast to Washington, where skepticism about global warming is high.

Mr. de Leon said he would remove the petroleum requirement from the bill but leave in two other less contentious parts, one mandating that half of all the state’s energy come from renewable resources, such as wind, by 2030, and the other measures to double the energy efficiencies of older buildings.

Henry T. Perea, a moderate Democrat who was a leader of the opposition to the petroleum measure, said he would support the measure — Senate Bill 350 — in this form, which he called a compromise.

“S.B. 350 will set California apart as a leader in climate change policy and will go a long way in reducing emissions in areas like the Central Valley that suffer from some of the worst air quality in the nation,” he said.

Mr. Brown and Mr. de Leon said they remained confident that the state would reach its long-term goals, pointing to huge cuts in emissions achieved over the past decade.

Mr. Brown told reporters in Sacramento that he would use his executive powers to continue to force the kinds of reductions in global emissions that have been a central goal of his governorship. “Oil has won the skirmish, but they’ve lost the bigger battle,” he said. “Because I am more determined than ever to make our regulatory regime work for the people of California: cleaning up the air, reducing the petroleum and creating the green jobs that are going to put hundreds of thousands of people to work over the coming decades.”

Still, this was a serious setback for environmentalists. California has long been at the forefront of this campaign, and this bill in particular had won the support of a wide variety of national Democrats, including the state’s two senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

The measure was the subject of an intense campaign directed by the Western States Petroleum Association, which labeled the bill “the California Gas Restriction Act of 2015” in television advertisements and mailings. The president of the organization, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, applauded the decision to drop this proposal and said that oil companies “remain committed to working with Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators on climate change and energy policy.”

“Californians are best served by inclusive energy policy and by a legislative body that retains authority on issues so critically important to jobs, communities and our way of life,” she said.