California will continue to lead the fight in curbing greenhouse gas emissions for the sake of future generations, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats said as they scaled back an ambitious climate change proposal amid opposition from oil interests. "This is a tough battle and we're going to have a few scars to show for it," Brown said Wednesday as he and legislative Democrats dropped a key mandate to cut California's petroleum use by 50 percent in 15 years.
Brown, a Democrat who has made climate change the centerpiece of his final tenure, said state regulators will announce toughened reporting rules on low-carbon fuel standards as early as next week.
Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, had pushed a far-reaching proposal to cut petroleum use by half, boost renewable-electricity use to 50 percent and double energy efficiency in existing buildings. They were forced to drop the mandate to cut oil use from their proposal, SB350, amid fierce opposition from business groups and oil companies that viewed it as a direct attack to their bottom line.
Many Democrats — including those representing minority communities that are most adversely affected by poor air quality — were concerned that the petroleum mandate would hurt California's economy and working-class residents. They wanted greater oversight of the air board that has been in charge of implementing California's ambitious greenhouse gas emissions law signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
"I do find an ironic perversity to this situation where you have CEOs of the most wealthy and powerful companies in the world, who make upward of $20-$25 million a year, all of sudden have become the best friends of minority communities," de Leon said.
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said Wednesday's announcement reflects how the state's energy policy has an economic impact on its competitiveness.
"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.
Brown and legislative leaders now plan to move forward with the remaining two components to increase renewable energy and improve energy efficiency in buildings.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, whose members resisted the petroleum piece, said she felt confident the bill would get out. Lawmakers have just two full days remaining for bills to emerge from the current legislative session.
Brown said the primary sticking points for moderate Democrats in the state Assembly concerned the California Air Resources Board, an unelected body with broad power to set vehicle emissions and fuel standards to decide how the state will reduce oil use.
The governor said opponents agreed to pass the legislation if he agreed to dramatically scale back its power, but he refused.
A fiery Brown said that he and the two Democratic leaders did not cave to calls to scale back state authority to set emission rules.
"The only thing different is my zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree and nothing, nothing is going to stop this state from pushing forward" on aggressive climate change standards, he said.
Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, who until recently was the Senate minority leader, welcome Wednesday's announcement, saying the oil reduction carried too much unknown economic costs.
"I think that was the most problematic component of SB350 because it hit everybody in ways we don't even know, how technologically we were going to accomplish the goal," Huff said in an interview.
Brown has campaigned on climate change this year, discussing it with the pope at the Vatican in July. He is expected to attend the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in November.
He said the intense debate surrounding the legislation may have actually helped the cause of climate change legislation in the long term.
The governor and legislative leaders also announced Wednesday that they would take more time to strike out a compromise on transportation funding.
The AP contributed to this report.