Global Warming is Big Business for CA Government

Just when Californians thought implementation of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act couldn’t get any worse, it is.

global warming eco greenAB 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, and SB 375, the sustainable communities companion bill enacted in 2008, both are under implementation by the California Air Resources Board. But CARB has taken a great deal of liberty, particularly with its interpretation of AB 32.

CARB devised a cap-and-trade system whereby it holds a quarterly auction program “requiring many California employers to bid significant amounts of money for the privilege of continuing to emit carbon dioxide — or be faced with closing their doors in California, laying off their employees, and moving their businesses to other states,” the Pacific Legal Foundation recently said.

The PLF ought to know. They are suing CARB over its cap-and-trade scheme, calling it an “unconstitutional state tax.”

Now, using the guise of AB 32 and SB 375 implementation, a new bill would assist the cap-and-trade program by directing the hundreds of millions of dollars of revenues into the “Sustainable Communities Infrastructure Program.” However, AB 574 by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, also is about justifying the the cap-and-trade tax revenues for use on the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

While Democrats may hold a supermajority in the Legislature, Lowenthal got an earful from Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, in the Assembly Transportation Committee Monday. (Video here)

Money to blow

If AB 574 is passed, Californians could expect to see a jump in the size of the massive state bureaucracy. This would allow for even more government waste, and the state would be exposed to substantial legal liability by improperly, and possibly illegally, authorizing the use of cap-and-trade revenue for high-speed rail.

Assemblyman Patterson lit into the bill with a directness rarely seen in California politics. “Are cap-and-trade funds going to be used for high-speed rail?” he asked Lowenthal.

But Lowenthal did not answer Patterson, and instead deferred to Jim Earp with the California Alliance for Jobs, the sponsor of AB 574. CAJ is a big supporter of public infrastructure and represents 80,000 union construction workers in the state.

“They could be used for rail modernization… yes, for high-speed rail,” Earp said.

Patterson asked Lowenthal and Earp if they or anyone had addressed the concerns the Legislative Analyst’s Office expressed over the use of the cap-and-trade auction revenues. But Earp insisted that the cap-and-trade revenues would have to pass intense scrutiny before anything was spent.

Patterson was not satisfied. “While high-speed rail could in the long run help reduce greenhouse gasses, not by 2020,” he said.

“I believe high-speed rail could support that,” Earp said.

“I want to know the justification and rationale for supporting this bill,” Patterson said. But he got no justification.

Patterson was referring to the LAO report, which found that construction of the massive rail project would actually increase carbon emissions. The LAO found that, because reducing greenhouse gases is not the primary purpose of high-speed rail, it would be difficult to justify how the cap-and-trade revenues could be used to pay the large capital costs, when it is not the reason why the rail system is even being built.

Transportation and sustainability

“For cities to remain habitable, profound changes need to occur both in cities themselves and in the ways they impact the surrounding landscapes and hinterlands,” the UCLA Center for Sustainable Communities claims. The center’s main research themes include:

  • “Integrated social-biophysical research on human environmental interactions and their impacts and feedback loops.
  • “Social justice and urban environmental sustainability through revitalizing and renaturalizing the urban environment.
  • “Research and analysis of systems of governance and government for democratic accountability and greater sustainability.”

AB 574 establishes the statutory framework to be able to spend cap-and-trade auction revenues on sustainable communities plans. The Strategic Growth Council, only created in 2008, and the California Transportation Commission, in conjunction with CARB, will be charged with establishing the standards for the use of the cap-and-trade tax revenues.

Lowenthal told the committee that Sustainable Communities Strategies would create:

  • “Livable Communities — Funding to increase transit mode share through focused transit expansion and ridership programs, transit-oriented development, and complete streets investment.
  • “Rail Modernization — Infrastructure investments in high-speed rail, conventional passenger rail, and local mass transit that maximize system integration and increase rail and transit trips.
  • “Infrastructure — Funding for infrastructure for smooth/GHG pavements, complete streets, ramp meters/traffic management.
  • “Active Transportation – increasing bike and pedestrian trips and associated infrastructure.”

And CARB has indicated that 25 percent of these funds will be used to benefit disadvantaged communities.

But this is merely loosely worded language to allow the money go to “rail modernization,” as well as local transportation projects. And the only “rail modernization” taking place in California is the $68 billion high-speed rail scheme.

What is AB 32 and cap and trade?

AB 32 established the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions statewide to 1990 levels by 2020. Ostensibly, in order to achieve this goal, CARB implemented regulations to establish a cap-and-trade program that places a “cap” on aggregate greenhouse gas emissions from businesses and utilities, which CARB says are responsible for most of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

CARB issues carbon allowances and businesses are required to buy or sell these in the open market.

CARB has already conducted two quarterly cap-and-trade auctions, in November and March. Allowances were purchased by the regulated businesses in order to be allowed to continue doing business in the state. The LAO estimates roughly $660 million to upwards of $3 billion will be generated by the early auctions, and in the tens of billions of dollars over subsequent years.

This is the money Lowenthal wants funneled to transportation projects and sustainable community programs.

Authorizing the use of cap-and-trade revenue for high-speed rail could expose the state to legal liability, particularly if the Pacific Legal Foundation lawsuit against the CARB prevails.

‘Sustainable Communities’: Is this government housing?

Opponents of AB 574 say the Legislature cannot fund a program designed to dictate where Californians live, where they work, and how they travel. Nor should all Californians be forced to live in urban high-density developments, and be forced to use public transit, as the sustainable communities programs dictate.

This is government at its worst. This is central planning, which will force citizens into a government-sanctioned lifestyle incompatible with a free market economy. This is a fundamental threat to liberty. Yet this is what AB 32 and SB 375 really were about.

(Katy Grimes is a longtime political analyst, writer and journalist, and CalWatchdog’s news reporter. Originally posted on CalWatchdog.)