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The Riggs Report: A win for cap-and-trade and Gov. Brown

​July 20, 2017

What’s this? A highly-controversial climate change program approved by Democrats and Republicans?

This week’s high-wire act at the state Capitol is a big win for Gov. Jerry Brown. He said this political battle was not about his legacy. But let’s face it, all politicians care about that, no matter what they might say publicly.

In Brown’s case, the vote to extend the state’s existing cap-and-trade program cements his credentials and his credibility as someone who can advocate for efforts to fight climate change, not just on the national level but on the global stage.

Brown has positioned himself as the anti-Trump on environmental issues, having reacted with bitter disappointment to the White House’s recent decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

He speaks with evangelistic zeal about the importance of California’s role in setting an example for the rest of the world when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

Brown has already announced plans for California to hold its own climate summit in 2018 in San Francisco.

It would have been a major political setback for California’s only four-term governor if the Legislature had not approved the cap-and-trade program, undercutting his influence.

Brown demonstrated his considerable political skills once again on this issue. He made an unusual plea during testimony last week before the Senate Environmental Quality committee, telling members their vote “is the most important vote of your life.”

After hours of closed-door meetings and negotiations, Brown offered concessions to lure Republican votes, such as phasing out a special fire tax paid by mountain residents and expanding a manufacturers’ tax credit that will benefit energy companies.

Despite concerns on the left that the final package offered too much to business interests, and concern on the right about regulatory overreach, Brown was able to secure eight Republican lawmaker votes—one in the Senate and seven in the Assembly.

In the end, the bill passed with 28 votes in the Senate and 55 votes in the Assembly, hitting the two-thirds vote threshold with an extra vote to spare in each house.

It’s not the kind of bipartisan agreement that you would see in Washington D.C., where the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare fell apart in the Senate this week.

Of the eight Republicans who supported the cap-and trade plan, those who are running for office will face political heat next year from conservative activists. There will be plenty of distress and noise, due to the higher gasoline prices associated with the bill.

But it is unlikely that these Republicans have walked the plank.

Keep in mind that the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Farm Bureau both came out in support of the bill. Both organizations will be sure to express their appreciation in terms of campaign support in 2018.

That will be true also for utilities and energy companies who benefit from the bill’s added tax breaks.

Surveys also note that climate change is also a concern of many Republican voters.

Next year’s election fighting may not be far off. But for now, Brown prepares to sign cap-and-trade legislation that keeps intact California’s role as a leader in climate change policy.