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California's Big Climate Program Hits 10

Sometime allies Governors Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger joined forces again Wednesday at the California Museum in Sacramento to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Schwarzenegger's signing of California's pioneering omnibus climate change legislation.
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Sometime allies Governors Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger joined forces again Wednesday at the California Museum in Sacramento to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Schwarzenegger's signing of California's pioneering omnibus climate change legislation. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, also known as AB 32, committed the Golden State to a decades-long drive to create a low-carbon economy and slash greenhouse gas emissions by accelerating the transition to renewable energy, conservation and energy efficiency, and new transportations systems.

The site was not nearly so spectacular as that of the signing ceremony itself, Treasure Island in the midst of San Francisco Bay. The event was a tad late, as the actual signing took place on September 27, 2006. And there was no global superstar statesman taking part by satellite hook-up. Then third-term British Prime Minister Tony Blair (not yet ruined by the Iraq War), who provided significant assistance to California on the issue, had spoken rather dramatically by live hook-up from Manchester, England.

But the anniversary celebration was certainly good enough, as the saying goes, for government work.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined Governor Jerry Brown and other climate change/renewable energy leaders at the California Museum in Sacramento to celebrate the 10th anniversary of California's landmark program.

The two principals, Schwarzenegger and Brown -- just imagine that I have billed them in reverse alphabetical order with Brown's name higher, kinda like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman in another California extravaganza, 'The Towering Inferno' -- had some characteristically pithy things to say. Yet in some respects the supporting cast at the anniversary event was even more interesting. (Also interesting is a character missing from the proceedings, former Governor Gray Davis, Brown's one-time/long-time chief of staff, who signed the state's first renewable energy requirement and the tailpipe emissions law which was the original cornerstone of AB 32.)

Meeting on a day on which President Barack Obama, who announced as a candidate in 2007 that he viewed California as the pioneering model for his climate change/renewable energy efforts, announced the earlier than expected international ratification of December's global Paris Accord -- take that, Donald Trump! -- some of California's key supporting players contributed valuable insights on the road to date and the journey to come.

Kicking things off for the co-sponsoring USC Schwarzenegger Institute, longtime Arnold advisor Bonnie Reiss lauded her boss and recalled the heavy opposition to Schwarzenegger signing the bill, especially from some of his key backers, even though it was largely what he wanted. It did not, as I've written before, have the market flexibility of a cap-and-trade system, and some bill supporters wanted straight-up command-and-control regulation across the board. But, along with a few others, I pointed out to Schwarzenegger and company that ambiguity in the bill's language gave him the opening he needed.

Then Mary Nichols, the woman who runs the state's climate program -- appointed to do so by Schwarzenegger and retained by Brown, who had made her his second Air Resources Board (ARB) chair back in 1979, replacing original Brown campaign manager Tom Quinn -- came on to recount a few telling anecdotes and introduce key players in "superhero" guise. Nichols is a masterful ARB chief but a bit sketchy on the movie front, as all her examples seemed to be characters from 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Harry Potter', which are not superhero epics.

Longtime legislator Fran Pavley, who seemed to be, er, Frodo, or Galadriel, authored the original tailpipe emissions bill in 2002 as well as most key climate bills since then. But she chose to recall the nation's first big renewable portfolio standard (20 percent of all electric power to Brown's new standard of 50 percent), authored by then Senator Byron Sher. That was opposed by the utilities and much of big business as a "job killer" and needed special appointments to get out of legislative committee. Like Pavley's other such examples, the renewable requirement did anything but crash the economy as prophesied by opponents.

While Pavley initially authored what became AB 32, it was only when then Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez -- Schwarzenegger's one-time bete noire turned best buddy -- came on board as the other legislative author that the program really began to move forward.

Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 into law in this ceremony on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

Nunez or, um, Elrond praised Schwarzenegger for going against the grain of his party and recalled how depressed many environmentalists had been at the time by the Bush/Cheney administration essentially defeating the global Kyoto Accord by deliberate inaction.

Present state Senate leader Kevin de Leon, a key Brown ally, came on to discuss how California is "reframing the climate debate," proving that society need not pick between economy and environment. He cited a new report showing California moving ahead of Britain as the world's fifth largest economy. Clean energy, he noted, has become a new pillar of the California economy even as the environmental movement itself has broadened across racial and class lines.

De Leon brought on the now bearded Schwarzenegger. Which means we didn't get a Nichols take on which superhero Arnold would be besides the obvious Terminator. (Hmm, how about Ant-Man?)

Schwarzenegger, not at all incidentally, did exactly what he told me long before he ever ran for governor that he would do if ever he got the chance on climate change and renewable energy.

In addition to praising Brown for extending and accelerating the state's programs, Schwarzenegger noted that Brown actually began educating California and priming the pump for this sort of action in the present and future with "the crazy stuff he talked about decades ago" during his first go-round as California's governor.

If the rest of the country followed California's lead right away, he said, the US could close 75 percent of its coal-fired power plants.

Schwarzenegger also talked about one of his last and best acts as governor, successfully leading the charge against the oil-backed 2010 initiative to gut AB 32, as well as his work with Brown in fighting the Bush/Cheney administration's efforts against California's climate program.

Brown, as the clean-up hitter of the event, did get a "superhero" introduction from Nichols. He's the "headmaster of Hogwarts."

Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown joined forces in November 2007 to sue the Bush/Cheney administration on its efforts to block California's climate change program.

Okay.

Brown, not surprisingly, rather liked the wizard bit. But he quickly noted that a lot of luck had been involved with all this from the very beginning.

For it was then Governor Ronald Reagan, of all people, who signed into being both the California Air Resources Board and the Energy Commission. Reagan did the latter, Brown said, in order to fast-track 20 to 30 nuclear power plants.

Brown, however, used the Energy Commission for something very different, to promote energy efficiency and renewables and wreck industry plans to litter the California countryside with inefficient and ultimately dangerous nuclear husks.

And Brown noted that climate change is an issue that requires "not normal politics," as it is not about the fast application of money to meet or placate short-term needs.

It requires "big ideas," Brown said, the obvious province of someone like Schwarzenegger.

"Thanks, Arnold," he declared, now fully in facetious, jocular mode, "for all the issues I'm now saddled with ... climate, cap-and-trade, high-speed rail, Delta tunnels."

It was a good way to end on a none too solemn note.

For the challenges remain great. Not so much to California's core programs -- industry attempts to disrupt the cap-and-trade market with faux uncertainty will fade -- as to further replication of the Californian approach across America. The big imponderable, of course, is the presidential race between the two most unpopular nominees in history, one of whom is a famous greenhouse denier.

Celebrating Earth Day in Iowa City in 2007, then Senator Barack Obama talked up the California approach as his model on climate change policy.

It's striking how close the presidential race remains even after endless screw-ups by Donald Trump. The reality, as has become all too clear, is that if Trump were only half so dysfunctional, he would be virtually certain of defeating Hillary Clinton.

As it is, we're just a few Clinton mistakes, or negative developments, away from the election of a notorious greenhouse denier who has pledged to fire up the coal industry like it's a hundred years ago all over again.

Archconservative Mike Pence's victory in the vice presidential debate doesn't make much difference, fortunately, but it does remind again that Tim Kaine is the expected stiff as a campaigner. And it pointed the way for Trump in Sunday's debate, to press his own largely effective arguments home and slough off personal attacks rather than become endlessly distracted by them, as he did in the first debate won by Hillary.

Thanks to Obama lighting a fire under enough Europeans to declare the Paris Accord ratified much earlier than expected, Trump would not be able to undo the global plan as he has pledged to do. But he certainly could make major mischief and more with a number of Obama programs here in the US.

So, Madame Secretary, no pressure, but ... the future of the world's human habitability may be all on you.

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