Jerry Brown and California Press Forward Again on Climate Change

There is no more fundamental and profound issue for the future of humanity than the habitability of our planet, still the only one we have. And as climate change becomes ever more evident, despite the weirdly persistent efforts of many absurd deniers in this country, humanity's future grows more in doubt.

With greenhouse denier Donald Trump in striking distance of the White House, Governor Jerry Brown is missing no opportunities to move the anti-climate change agenda forward.

Late last week he signed major new legislation accelerating California's already pioneering role in combating climate change.

Incidentally, on the off chance that Hillary Clinton -- now afflicted by the sudden admission of pneumonia in the wake of her unsteady departure from the 9/11 memorial in New York as well as evergreen controversies around her e-mail security and her tight relationship with the megabucks Clinton Foundation -- should have to resign her nomination, the very fit fourth term Governor Brown, not part of the Beltway-Wall Street axis, would be a good choice as her replacement. As would Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. A little more on that later.

Governor Jerry Brown signed far-reaching new legislation on climate change and energy on September 8th at an urban park in downtown Los Angeles. The two bills will have major impacts on the shape of the energy and transportation markets in California and ultimately elsewhere, given the significance of the California market.

Like Brown, who has more than two years to go in office, President Barack Obama is also moving aggressively on climate and environmental fronts. But the sands of Obama's time in office are running out. And should Donald Trump win election, some of Obama's accomplishments may well be eviscerated. Trump says he will try to roll back last year's hard-won Paris Accord from the UN Climate Summit. And his energy policy is literally as reactionary as can be imagined, focused on skipping backward a century or two to emphasize coal-fired electricity production.

Brown moved by executive order in 2015 to establish a California emissions reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. That's the most aggressive program in North America, now with the added force of enacted legislation.

California was already on course to meet the current target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. That was established in the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, AB 32, signed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The new SB 32's 2030 goal will help make it possible to reach the ultimate goal from 2006 of reducing emissions by 80 percent under 1990 levels by 2050.

Brown built on groundbreaking work by predecessors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis on greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and new transportation. Schwarzenegger and Davis in turn widened the initial path blazed by Brown himself during his first two terms in the '70s and '80s, when California became the national leader in energy efficiency and solar energy and the world leader in wind energy.

Now Brown, working with state Senate President Kevin de Leon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, is showing how the world's sixth largest economy is making the needed transition from a fossil fuel base to a renewable base. Brown, de Leon, and Rendon worked with the two legislative authors this year, Senator Fran Pavley (at the center of all major California climate legislation since 2002) and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia to overcome powerful opposition from the oil industry. Big Oil and conservative elements of the corporate community were out to block new moves on climate and scuttle the cap-and-trade market by drowning it in uncertainty.

As it happens, the 2006 AB 32 omnibus framework legislation signed by Schwarzenegger clearly continues well into the middle of the 21st century. There was never any intent to sunset in 2020. And the bill was written in such a way as to empower the executive to enact specific remedies to carry out its charge, with the legislature in an advisory role.

It was also written so ambiguously that it authorized the creation of a cap-and-trade market even though it was not specified, as I pointed out to Schwarzenegger and company when the Governator was being besieged by many of his Republican supporters to veto the bill.

The alternative to the market flexibility allowed by AB 32 is command-and-control regulation. As Brown points out, the flexibility of cap-and-trade is clearly preferable to opponents, who have simply failed to block the legislation's policy imperatives.

And cap-and-trade is not a tax requiring a two-thirds legislative vote, since business can always choose to go the more onerous regulation-only route. Of course we already know this given the history of the past 10 years.

So in my read the legislative intent of AB 32, which extended for decades onward, actually made new legislation unnecessary. But getting new legislation was clearly preferable, creating as it does fresh political buy-in and eliminating or rendering irrelevant much opposition.

Brown took the lead role on climate change and renewable energy issues at the Democratic National Convention.

What California is doing is essentially Trump-proof. What Obama has been doing is much more in doubt, one of the most important reasons that a Clinton/Democratic victory is so imperative.

Obama's August 31st visit to Lake Tahoe, the once pristine sapphire in the sky nestled in the Sierra Nevadas, where I've vacationed many times, did much to highlight the effects of climate change and its new drought conditions here and in much of the country.

His subsequent trip to Midway Island in the Pacific, site of arguably the most important battle in American history, which I visited often as a reservist, had much more than symbolic meaning. For Obama has used his executive authority to create the largest marine preserve in the world, three-and-a-half times the size of California, centered on Midway, an amazing place for any naturalist to visit.

And what Obama did after he flew on from Midway to China for the G-20 summit was even more important. He succeeded in at last getting China to join the US in ratifying the Paris Accord on reducing greenhouse gases.

So much for Trump's ludicrous conspiracy theory that climate change is a Chinese hoax to cripple the US economy.

There need be no crippling of an advanced industrial economy, as we are showing right now here in California.

The economy is humming, growing past such powers as France and Russia despite claims that the moves on climate and energy would send it into a tailspin. And under Brown's leadership, the state has recovered from a $27 billion budget deficit to a decided surplus, with a new rainy day fund in place to boot.

All of which would make Brown, should ill fortune require Hillary's demurral, a very potent candidate against Trump. He certainly didn't have the time to campaign in the primaries, but is the sort of brilliant, fast-talking, visionary yet down to earth intellectual who could give Trump fits in any sort of face-off you can imagine. If any politician in America can jump-start a candidacy, or turn on a dime in a competitive situation, it is Jerry Brown. Who as longtime readers know I always support. But I've been right about him all along even while many supposed experts dismissed him.

Joe Biden also could be a successful alternative to Duce Donald. He has the experience and knowledge, and middle-class appeal. He is highly articulate. And he is a mensch. Which Trump decidedly is not.

Then of course there is my choice in the primary just past, Bernie Sanders. The great thing for Sanders is that the Republicans never bothered to tear him down, so his national numbers stayed relatively high. They wanted to use him as a foil against Hillary.

Wouldn't it be ironic if that strategic choice were to make it virtually impossible for them to bring him down in the limited time remaining?

At the 20th annual Lake Tahoe summit, Brown was joined at the big blue lake in the sky by President Barack Obama as well as Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and California and Nevada's U.S. senators.

And of course the amazing Sanders online fundraising machine would absolutely explode if he were to end up running in this crazy-quilt general election.

Sanders could spin up his campaign the fastest of course. He might well be unstoppable. But he might be a better advocate than president.

In any event the Democratic National Committee is hardly a Sanders stronghold, to say the least. Which brings us to Biden. Tim Kaine? Evidently still in witness protection. John Kerry? Great strengths but wrong style for this era.

If Bernie and Biden were to deadlock then Brown would be the best bet. Sure he is all of eight years older than Trump (Brown's parents lived into their 90s) but he is far more fit than the paunchy bully boy.

Brown, a two-time runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination (losing only to future Presidents Carter and Clinton) delivers on the visionary -- California is already well on its way to 50 percent renewable power -- and the practical as engineer of the biggest budget turnaround in history. As a close friend of the iconic Cesar Chavez -- I recall walking with Brown as he carried Cesar's casket -- he could mobilize the Latino vote. He could also swiftly ramp up Silicon Valley and Hollywood fundraising. And his fast-paced, witty Jesuitical debating skills would give the ever glib but blundering and quite ignorant Trump fits.

As enticing a vision as that may be, let's hope it doesn't come to it. Hillary Clinton has great strengths of her own, which I think are often obscured in this odd campaign. She should recover. And given that she is smarter and far more knowledgeable than Trump, she should win this election, even though it is far tighter than many supposed, as I've been warning for more than a month now.

In the meantime, aided by able legislators and legislative leaders like Pavley, Garcia, de Leon and Rendon, Brown and California have taken more big steps on the most fundamental and profound of all public policy concerns. These steps will continue no matter the outcome of this presidential election.

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