Climate Bill Would Make AB32 Battle Moot

The prospects of the Senate climate bill introduced Wednesday are not great. A plethora of politicians and pundits — in fact, seemingly everyone but co-sponsors John Kerry and Joe Lieberman — have expressed deep reservations that the bill has a shot in the current political climate.

But if the American Power Act should pass, it would make a hash of the battle in California over a ballot initiative to suspend AB32, the state’s wide-reaching greenhouse gas reduction plan that was signed into law in 2006.

That’s because it specifically preempts state cap-and-trade systems — a cornerstone of AB32. Here’s the relevant text, from an official summary (PDF) of the APA:

States will not be permitted to operate cap-and-trade programs for greenhouse gases. Those states that have already taken a leadership role in implementing emission reduction policies will receive compensation for the revenues lost as a result of the termination of their cap-and-trade programs.

Instead, the APA sets in place a much weaker cap-and-trade system nationwide.

One aspect of the Act that has not been clearly delineated is what sort of “compensation” California would receive if APA replaced AB32, nor how that compensation would trickle down to those who actually spent money to comply with AB32.

Supporters of a ballot initiative to suspend AB32 say the law’s regulations would cost jobs, but supporters of AB32 say the bill actually encourages job growth, by spurring investment in clean technology.

They also say that the initiative would effectively repeal AB32, because the economic conditions required to lift suspension — unemployment below 5.5 percent for one year — have happened only 3 times in the last 30 years.

Cleantech companies and the venture capital firms that support them are girding for a multi-million dollar battle to fight the suspension now that it seems likely it will end up on the ballot in November, according to a recent article in Climatewire.

Compromise lost?

One little known provision in AB32, which could have been a potential point of compromise, is a provision that allows the Governor “to invoke a safety valve and suspend the emissions caps for up to one year in the case of an emergency or significant economic harm,” according to the Governor’s website.

Steven Maviglio of the Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs campaign, said that the fact that there is this safety valve in the law and there is still an initiative to oppose it “just shows how radical that initiative is.”

“The Governor has decided not to pull the trigger, because AB32 is generating jobs,” Maviglio said.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.