Gov. Brown signs legislation regulating cow, landfill emissions

As reported by the Orange County Register:

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday that regulates for the first time greenhouse-gas emissions tied to dairy cows and landfills, an escalation of California’s efforts to fight climate change beyond carbon-based gases to include methane and other pollutants.

The move by the Democratic governor targets a category of gases known as short-lived climate pollutants, which have an outsize effect on global warming despite their relatively short life in the atmosphere. Environmentalists hope that tackling short-lived pollutants now would buy time to develop new and more affordable technology to reduce carbon emissions.

The legislation will require steep reductions in a variety of pollutants, including methane; HFC gases used in aerosols and air conditioning refrigerants; and soot, known as black carbon. It’s tied to $90 million in funding for the dairy industry and garbage collectors. …

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California Needs Infrastructure, and Unions Should be Helping

Road work“Infrastructure” is a perennial topic that enters and leaves California’s public consciousness in the following manner: A politician says “we must rebuild our crumbling infrastructure,” journalists report it, almost nothing is done, and the infrastructure continues to crumble. The talking point is made. Check the box. Repeat. Decades pass.

If you’ve driven west on Interstate 580 from California’s central valley into the San Francisco Bay Area, “infrastructure” becomes more than a hard-to-pronounce, sort of awkward sounding four syllable word that emanates from the mouths of politicians every election cycle. Because the divots, pot-holes, fissures and bumps on Interstate 580 west are impossible to ignore. The road is literally falling apart.

It isn’t enough to marvel at how Californians tolerate this negligence. Because it harms our quality of life. Today the failure is measured in terms of how many cars and trucks require far more frequent maintenance to repair their battered suspensions because we can’t fix our roads. Today it’s short showers and annoying light switches that turn off automatically because we won’t build new water and power infrastructure. But tomorrow it could be a catastrophe, as entire regions are potentially denied water, power or transportation, because over time, less and less viable infrastructure became critical to supporting more and more people.

Why? Why have California’s policymakers paid lip service to infrastructure for the last 20-30 years, all the while watching it crumble? Here are three reasons:

(1) Environmentalists provide the moral cover for neglect. There isn’t a road, a bridge, a power plant, a port upgrade, new housing, a water treatment plant – not one scratch in the ground that isn’t bitterly contested by the environmentalist lobby. Powerful environmentalist organizations, often receiving government funds, with opportunistic trial lawyers populating their boards of directors, have an incentive to tie every possible infrastructure investment up in knots. While some environmental oversight is necessary, the challenge of complying with every environmentalist objection deters all but the wealthiest corporations, and creates costly delays that last for decades.

(2) Many corporate special interests benefit from neglect. Corporations who own existing sources of supply can charge higher prices and generate higher profits. Utilities are the obvious examples of this – ever since “decoupling” legislation was passed in California, the only way utilities can generate higher profits is to raise unit costs, since unit output and profit percentages are fixed by law. So if water costs $2.00 per CCU instead of $0.25, or if electricity costs $0.50 per KWH instead of $0.05, utility companies make a killing for their shareholders. Similarly, owners of land that has finally been approved for development, or quarries that got operating permits before the regulations made them prohibitive, are able to sell their inventory at fantastic markups.

(3) Public sector unions also benefit from infrastructure neglect. Taxpayer funds that ought to be paying to construct and upgrade roads and bridges end up being allocated instead to pay government workers higher salaries and fund generous pensions. These unions also benefit from the legislated and entirely artificial scarcity that drives up prices for land and homes, because it increases property tax revenue. And of course, every additional environmentalist inspired regulation and code means more unionized government inspectors and enforcement officers can be hired. Government over-management and mismanagement always benefits public sector unions.

So where is California’s private sector labor movement when it comes to infrastructure? Here is a quote from the California Labor Federation’s website, under “Advocacy / Key Issues.” Revealingly, this is number ten of ten on their “issues” page:

“Invest in California’s Infrastructure: We must have a comprehensive strategy for making investments in infrastructure and a sustainable, equitable way to finance them. We need to restore our public transportation systems, modernize our rail system and rebuild our roads and waterways. We must double our efforts to build high speed rail in California.”

Apart from “high speed rail,” a project that fails to justify itself under any rational cost/benefit analysis, this all sounds good. But where’s the follow up?

When scoping meetings are held to approve infrastructure projects, whether it is widening a highway, approving a new subdivision, repairing a bridge, or building the Temperance Flat or Sites reservoirs, where are the unions? Why aren’t hundreds of them showing up two hours early to these meetings, elbowing the environmentalist trial lawyers and their zealous puppets out of the room? Why aren’t they packing the out-of-control California Air Resources Board meetings to show solidarity with the workers in dairies, agriculture, manufacturing, mining and timber, trucking, and countless other industries who employ hundreds of thousands of Californians?

Instead California’s labor unions typically resort to “greenmail,” a tactic that goes as follows: Pick a project that the environmentalist lobby doesn’t actually object to, then sue the developer on environmentalist grounds until they concede to enact a project labor agreement, than drop the lawsuit.

Is this the best they can do?

California’s private sector labor movement should consider how environmentalism, married with the special interests of monopolistic corporations, allied with government labor whose agenda is utterly different than their own, have destroyed literally millions of good jobs in this state. They should consider how close California is to becoming an authoritarian wasteland, where land, water, energy, housing and transportation are cynically rationed by this alliance of oligarchs and elitists. They need to wake up and fight for their core principles – the welfare of workers and their families.

An essential point that union leaders and their members ought to understand is the cost of building infrastructure in California is prohibitive for reasons that go far beyond paying a prevailing wage, or even the cost of hiring a few extra employees on a project to comply with union work rules. The costs are prohibitive because oligarchs and elitists have colluded to make every element of a project more expensive – the land, power, materials, transportation, staging, permits, and time-delays. The compounding effect of these pernicious barriers have enriched oligarchs, government workers, and the trial lawyers representing the environmentalists. They’ve made the rest of us poorer, and they’re the real reason we don’t have more good jobs.

To take one dramatic example, consider the Carlsbad desalination plant, which – not even including distribution pipes to move the water into the municipal supply – was built at at a capital cost of $12,733 per acre foot of annual capacity. Compare that to the Sorek desalination plant, completed in Israel in 2013 at a capital cost of $4,111 per acre foot of annual capacity, less than one-third as much! This was accomplished in a nation where labor is not cheap, nor is the government a paragon of free market deregulation. This is not an isolated case.

It is a crime against all Californians that other developed nations can build infrastructure for less than one-third what it costs here, and that other states in the U.S. can build infrastructure for less than half what it costs in California. Labor costs occupy a dwindling percentage of what infrastructure projects cost, which means that unions should start lobbying aggressively for infrastructure investment, instead of playing petty greenmail games. They may not win every project labor agreement battle. But they will win the war to create millions of good new jobs, and change California from a land of authoritarian scarcity back into a land of opportunity and abundance.

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Environmentalists suffer defeat on coastal commission bills

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Efforts by Democratic lawmakers to overhaul two state environmental boards they viewed as too tight with developers and the oil industry foundered badly on the final day of the legislative session.

Three bills to increase transparency at the California Coastal Commission and increase state appointments to a Southern California air pollution regulator fell far short of passage in the Senate and Assembly after business and labor groups stepped up pressure on legislators.

The loss was particularly stinging for members who have led a vocal campaign this year against perceived problems at the coastal commission. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said she would take up the fight again next session.

“Our coast is not the property of well-connected special interests. It is not a bargaining chip for backroom deal-making,” she said in a statement. “It is for all of us, and we must continue fight to protect it for our state and future generations.”

Environmentalists were enraged in …

17-Cent Gas Tax Hike on the Horizon

gas prices 2The Democratic member who has led the push in the Assembly for a gas tax hike to pay for transportation improvements is teaming with the Democratic senator who has played the same role in his chamber. And the pair want to be far bolder that Gov. Jerry Brown was in his 2015 proposal.

Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, and Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, propose a 17 cent per gallon tax increase to fund a $7.4 billion transportation program, with likely additional annual hikes after adoption because the rate is indexed to inflation. They also want to increase the tax on diesel fuels by 30 cents a gallon, with the same indexing provision, and to make it easier to get approvals for transportation infrastructure improvements.

Brown’s proposal — which went nowhere in a special session — was built on a 6 cent per gallon tax increase and other provisions that would have funded a $3.6 billion transportation plan.

Bitterness over 2010 gas tax swap hangs over debate

The huge problem facing any proposal to raise taxes of this sort is the need for two-thirds approval, which means Republican votes in both the Assembly and Senate are necessary. And Democrats lobbying for GOP support don’t just have to overcome traditional Republican opposition to higher taxes. There continues to be deep bitterness over the gas tax swap that GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers pulled off in 2010 to plug a $1.8 billion hole in the 2010-11 budget. Republicans aware of this history would struggle to believe that the tax hikes that Frazier and Beall seek for road repairs might not at some future date be used to pay for state salaries, pensions or other needs unrelated to potholes and aging bridges.

The background: Irate over previous diversions of gasoline sales taxes from road repairs to other uses, California voters twice this century passed ballot measures — Proposition 42 in 2002 and Proposition 1A in 2006 — that banned such use of gas sales tax revenue.

But gasoline excise taxes can be spent on general fund obligations. So in 2010, gas excise taxes were sharply raised and gas sales taxes sharply reduced. Because the move was revenue-neutral, Schwarzenegger and Democrats successfully argued that the maneuver only needed to pass on a simple majority vote — not the two-thirds vote needed for tax hikes.

As a result, each year, the state Board of Equalization announces whether it is raising or cutting state excise taxes on gasoline to honor the deal’s requirement that the 2010 gas tax swap be roughly revenue-neutral.

Recent coverage of the Frazier-Beall initiative has not detailed whether the 17 cent per gallon tax hike would be entirely in the gas sales tax or entirely in the gas excise tax or a combination of increases in each.  If it were in the gas sales tax, that would nominally mean the money could only be spent on road repairs and infrastructure improvement because of Propositions 42 and 1A. But another gas tax swap could enable the money to be diverted to the general fund by a simple majority of the Legislature in the future, at least if the governor was amenable.

Republican lawmakers are also likely to be wary of another part of the Democratic lawmakers’ proposal: a $165 yearly fee for owners of zero-emission vehicles to help pay for road improvements. While that’s higher than what most states with such fees charge, it’s only half of what the average U.S. car owner pays in gas taxes a year, according to data from 2013.

The argument that zero-emission vehicles should pay more toward road maintenance is dismissed by greens who cite the environmental benefits of the vehicles. But as such vehicles become more common — and as states push gas taxes higher — owners of regular vehicles and free-market advocates are likely to cry foul.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

The Good, Bad and Ugly – Impending Bills Impact Small Business

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image21552155As the Legislature reconvenes this week for its final month of business for the 2015-2016 legislative session, NFIB California reflected on victories and challenges ahead per the “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly” bill list. Bills included in this list represent those which will have the greatest impact, either negative or positive, to our 22,000 small businesses across California.

As we enter these final four weeks of the legislative session, NFIB is prepared to hit the ground running to ensure the voice and interests of our 22,000 small business members, and their hundreds of thousands of employees, are heard regarding our remaining priority issues.

NFIB was proud to help stop a handful of ugly bills such as SB 878 (Leyva), the Predictive Scheduling Mandate, and SB 1161 (Allen), the ‘California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act’ so far this year. However, several bad bills remain alive and we are prepared to put forth every effort to protect small business in these final weeks.

Environmental mandates, transportation taxes, protected family leave, and agricultural workers’ mandates are some of our top policy concerns as the legislature wraps up this two-year session. Given the current lack of transparency in the legislature, it is impossible to know every issue that will be brought up since bills can, and will, be gutted-and-amended without notice to the public.

AB 2757 (Gonzalez), which mandates overtime pay for agricultural employees, is a perfect example: this bill died on the Assembly Floor months ago, but has resurfaced in the form of AB 1066 without full committee scrutiny.

In the first half of the legislative session, we witnessed how swiftly the Legislature can ram through devastating public policy with the enactment of Senate Bill 3 (Leno), which increased the state minimum wage to $15 per hour. Therefore, our 22,000 members will be highly engaged and informed on these policy issues with a regularly updated ‘The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly’ bill list.

Currently, the list includes 39 bills total (23 active): 14 good (5 active); 7 bad (6 active); and 18 ugly (12 active). This list reflects proposals from the 2015-2016 legislative session, and as new bills are introduced or morphed into substantively new bills, this list will be updated. You can always find the current version at http://www.nfib.com/ca/gbu.

CA Executive Director, National Federation of Independent Business.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Are Environmentalists Losing Influence in Legislature?

kevin de leon 2California environmentalists have long been one of the most powerful forces in the Legislature. But in 2015, the centerpiece of the green agenda — a provision in a broader measure that would have mandated a 50 percent reduction in gasoline use in the state by 2030 — stalled in the Legislature despite heavy prodding from Gov. Jerry Brown and appeals from then-Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Senate President Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. The development was such a break from the norm that it won heavy coverage from The New York Times, which called it “a major setback for environmental advocates in California.”

Now there’s a fresh sign that environmentalists’ clout may be on the wane. De Leon has stunned green groups by endorsing a moderate incumbent — Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino — who opposed the push for a sharp cut in gasoline use over another prominent Inland Empire Democrat, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes. As Calwatchdog reported earlier this year, Brown was indirectly blasted by one of de Leon’s leadership team, Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, who said she was backing Brown’s opponent because “she was a principled human being.”

In a strange twist, the document making the rounds in media circles showing de Leon’s endorsement of Brown contends that Leyva and all his fellow Senate Democratic leaders agree with him.

“I support Eloise Reyes. Period. Somehow the pro tem must have misunderstood my position, although I thought I was quite clear,” Leyva told The Los Angeles Times.

Whatever the logistical problems with de Leon’s endorsement, it amounts to a striking rejection of environmentalists’ argument that they know Brown’s district better than she does. This view was voiced again this week by one of Reyes’ consultants, Leo Briones, who told the Times, “Cheryl Brown can have every special interest and every Sacramento politician … but she still is a legislator that does not represent progressive values or her district when it comes to issues of working families, of consumers, of guns and public safety and the environment.”

Green official: Brown a ‘nice person,’ bad lawmaker

This argument was offered by a high-profile environmentalist in a January Sacramento Bee story that rubbed some minority lawmakers the wrong way:

“There’s no doubt Ms. Brown, who’s a very nice person, has not been representing her constituents when it comes to environmental issues, particularly clean-air issues,” Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips told the Bee. “She’s collected too much money from the oil industry and let that guide too many of her votes.”

As Calwatchdog reported then …

Phillips, who works out of Sacramento, is a white UC Berkeley graduate who used to work for the Environmental Defense Fund. Brown, who turns 72 next week, has been a fixture in the Inland Empire African-American political establishment for more than three decades. She co-founded a weekly publication that focuses on black issues in 1980 and has worked on a wide variety of African-American causes in western San Bernardino County.

Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, told the Bee he didn’t care for how environmentalists were treating his fellow African-American lawmaker. “I think it’s a tone-deaf approach. … The environmental community, and the broader environmental coalition, needs to figure out whether or not it’s going to be a collaborator and … work with black California on policy, and shared political goals, or if it will be an adversary.”

Ridley-Thomas is a vocal supporter of de Leon’s efforts to have a Superfund-type cleanup of the Exide battery plant in Vernon.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

CARB Threatens Greenhouse Gas Law Extention

carbon-tax-1The California Air Resources Board set a match to controversy this week suggesting that the board could push the cap-and-trade deadline for funding greenhouse gas reduction programs past its 2020 end date by executive fiat.

That’s not the way the law works, many Republicans cried, and they are backed up by an opinion from the Legislative Counsel’s Office.

According to the opinion, “The act does not authorize the governor or the ARB to establish a greenhouse gas emissions that is below 1990 level and that would be applicable after 2020.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller called the ARB proposal “illegal” and admonished the executive branch, “Californians deserve better than a government that acts as if they are above the law.”

Many in the business community feel fixes are needed to the current program before any extension is contemplated. Dorothy Rothrock, president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association said in a release following the ARB announcement, “Manufacturing investments and jobs have lagged other states in the US over the past six years by a large margin. Future climate policies must recognize this reality and be designed to protect California’s manufacturing jobs and economy.”

The cap-and-trade policy ARB wants to extend is subject to court action already, as business interests, including the California Chamber of Commerce, brought suit claiming the cap-and-trade formula is actually a tax requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature. The law establishing cap-and-trade, AB 32 of 2006, was established by majority vote. While a lower court brushed aside the business complaint an appellate court is now considering the matter. Observers watching court action say there is a chance the lower court decision could be reversed.

There is another way for the legislature and the governor to extend the cap-and-trade end date and lower the greenhouse gases goal below 1990 levels. Pass legislation.

That is exactly what some in the legislature are trying to do with SB 32, that would extend the law lowering the acceptable greenhouse gas level 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

The court case, however, raises doubt about whether the SB 32 needs a simple majority vote or a two-thirds vote.

In a Flash Report column yesterday, state Senator Andy Vidak said attempts are being made by Democratic leaders in the legislature to secure enough Republican votes to allow SB 32 to pass by two-thirds. If true, that is a strong indication that the Democrats are concerned the court will side with the CalChamber over the tax issue and brand cap-and-trade an illegal tax.

Yet, the politics over changing the greenhouse gases law do not stop there. Another consideration is one posed by L.A. Times columnist George Skelton who suggested California voters in November, reacting negatively to a Trump candidacy, might defeat Republican officeholders thus securing a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature for the Democrats.

In that case, the strategy for the Democrats just might be to bide their time. Then again, you might conclude that the politics don’t stop at that point, even with a two-thirds Democratic majority, because the politics of energy and its cost have split the Democratic caucus in the past and could do so again.

ditor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Fossil Fuels Witchhunt is a Quest for Cash

natural gas1The oil and gas industry was born in Pennsylvania on Aug. 27, 1859, when Edwin L. Drake drilled the world’s first commercial oil well. A critic said Drake should leave the oil underground because it was needed to fuel the fires of hell, and to pump it out would protect the wicked from their eternal punishment.

That’s how long some people have believed oil companies are in league with the devil.

Today’s anti-petroleum alarmists warn of the hellish climate that someday will result from civilization’s reliance on fossil fuels. Fortunately they’ve hit on a solution: cash payments. 

The strategy was hatched in 2012 at a two-day meeting in La Jolla organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Climate Accountability Institute. It brought together 23 experts on law, science and public opinion for a workshop titled, “Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages.”

The idea was to compare “public attitudes and legal strategies related to tobacco control” to those related to climate change, according to a report of the meeting.

The group found a few problems with the comparison to tobacco. For one thing, they couldn’t identify a specific harm from climate change that had damaged anybody.

“What is the ‘cancer’ of climate change that we need to focus on?” asked one attendee.

And there was a bigger problem. “The fact is, we do need some form of energy,” one participant said. Another lamented, “The activities that contribute to climate change are highly beneficial to us.”

Oh, that.

Originally published in the Los Angeles Daily News. For the remainder of the column please go here.

CA Cap-and-Trade Credits Extend to Brazil

carbon-tax-1In late 2012, as officials with the California Air Resources Board were refining rules for the state’s nascent cap-and-trade pollution rights program, a huge scandal was unfolding in the European Union. Five Deutsche Bank AG officials were arrested for their role in a complex scam involving using the sale of carbon-emission certificates to avoid paying taxes. Earlier that year, six cap-and-traders involved with the bank had been arrested as well.

Cap-and-trade critics had always warned that as soon as programs were introduced, there would be aggressive efforts to game and/or cheat the rules to make money. With these warnings reinforced by the EU scandal, California officials in early 2013 said they’d learned their lesson. Greenbiz.com reported that …

California, with the advantage of advanced warning, has taken the EU market’s lessons to heart. It has recognized the crucial need to tightly control — and extensively oversee — who can participate in the carbon market and how. With the help of the state Attorney General’s office, California has adopted more stringent rules than the EU ETS [Emissions Trading Scheme].

State tax credits for payments to indigenous communities?

Now, however, the Brown administration is pondering relaxing these rules by allowing companies to get pollution credits by paying for preservation of forest lands in Brazil.

The idea has been discussed for years but has picked up momentum of late. According to recent reports, state regulators are closer than ever to formally expanding the cap-and-trade program by allowing polluting industries to offset their carbon emissions by paying indigenous communities in the Amazon to preserve the rain forests in their region.

This idea has won praise from environmental groups, who have long depicted preservation of the rain forests in the Amazon delta as a global priority. They call it a great way for Brown to burnish his environmental legacy.

The Western States Petroleum Association has also been supportive, saying industries need options to meet their commitments under AB32 and related laws.

Brazil’s huge corruption scandal bodes poorly for CA program

But the initial coverage of Brown’s trial balloon omitted mention of two key issues: Gaming and cheating of cap-and-trade programs remains a huge problem around the world, and Brazil has both a long history of corruption and a lack of transparency.

In early 2015, Foreign Policy magazine reported how the European Union’s program had become a “playground for gangsters, international crime syndicates, and even two-bit crooks — who stole hundreds of millions of dollars in pollution credits.”

In October, Forbes magazine reported on a slew of new scandals, starting with schemers in Russia and Ukraine being accused of using the EU cap-and-trade market to sells counterfeit credits for 600 million tons worth of carbon dioxide emissions. The account noted that the less sophisticated a nation’s law-enforcement system, the more likely cap-and-trade scams were to be — and that some of the world’s richest people and companies were taking advantage.

“The cap-and-trade system of emissions trading is very difficult to control and its effects are diluted. … It is precisely because I am a market practitioner that I know the flaws in the system,” Forbes quoted financier-investor George Soros as saying.

Meanwhile, in January, Transparency International reported that over the previous year, Brazil’s corruption problems were growing worse at a faster rate than in any nation on the planet. Agence France Presse reported last week that a scandal involving billions of dollars of missing revenue from state oil giant Petrobras continued to grow, with dozens of government and business leaders implicated.

Efforts to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office have been complicated by the fact it is hard to find many credible critics of Rousseff within the Brazilian government, given how many prominent Brazilian politicians are either directly tied to the scandal or indirectly tied through close political alliances.

According to CalMatters, state air board officials said they would look to avoid problems caused by Western nations’ cap-and-trade programs in another tropical nation: Nigeria. But the issues there involved indigenous communities being denied use of forest lands they relied on because of restrictions under new conservation agreements — not necessarily the problems that California could risk if it counts on Brazil as a partner in a cap-and-trade pact.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Gov. Brown’s Greenhouse-Gas Cuts Scrutinized

As reported by the Associated Press:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The top lawyer for the California Legislature says Gov. Jerry Brown exceeded his authority when he issued an executive order imposing what he called the most aggressive carbon-emission reductions in North America, aligning California with the European Union’s aggressive climate change standards.

The opinion by Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine does not curtail Brown’s authority to continue implementing the greenhouse gas reduction plan, but it suggests a lawsuit challenging them could be successful.

The Democratic governor issued the executive order last year setting a new target for cutting carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. …

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