California’s Climate Challenges Remain as Key Lawmaker Exits

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By Carolyn Whetzel

Oct. 12 — California State Sen. Fran Pavley (D), considered by many as the state’s most influential environmental leader since 2002, wraps up her last term as a state lawmaker in December, leaving a solid foundation of important climate and energy policies.

The work, she said, is not done and the next steps will require strong leadership.

California faces challenges in preserving its climate policies, such as extending its greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program beyond 2020 and achieving an ambitious new 2030 emissions reduction target, Pavley told Bloomberg BNA in an exclusive interview that looked back on her role as a “climate leader” and offered tips on how to advance tough bills.

The oil industry and some business groups continue to lobby lawmakers and regulators to relax, if not scrap, the programs that grew out of legislation she authored.

“We need legislative leadership on these [climate] policies,” Pavley said.

Throughout her 14 years as a legislator, the former middle school teacher and mayor of Agoura Hills, made climate, energy and water issues a priority. She ushered through three landmark climate bills, the state’s first groundwater management law and measures to regulate oil and gas activities, including hydraulic fracturing, through the Assembly and the Senate.

Term limits bar Pavley from running for a seat in either state house again.

Elected to the Assembly in 2000, Pavley served the maximum three, two-year terms representing the 41st Assembly District, which includes portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. She returned to Sacramento in 2008, as representative for the 27th Senate District.

“Fran is one those living legends who has been underestimated by friends and foes alike,” Wendy James, chief executive officer of the Better World Group Inc., a Burbank, Calif.-based consulting business, told Bloomberg BNA. “Yet she has managed to change the world by working hard, knowing her stuff, adapting to changing political realities and just never giving up.”

Major Climate Victories

Pavley was a driving force behind A.B. 1493, the law to curb greenhouse gases from vehicles that served as a model for President Barack Obama’s coordinated national program for improving fuel economy and reducing carbon emissions from light-duty vehicles.

While serving in the Assembly, she co-authored the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (A.B. 32). The law directed the California Air Resources Board to develop a plan to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and led to a suite of climate polices and rules, including the first ever economy-wide cap-and-trade program.

On Sept. 8, Pavley saw her latest major climate victory, S.B. 32, which amended A.B. 32, signed into law. It ends a two-year effort to establish statutorily a post-2020 carbon emissions reduction target. Winning passage required overcoming an aggressive, industry funded opposition campaign and tying it to another measure, A.B. 197, which sought to provide more government transparency, she said.

S.B. 32 Important

Putting a 2030 target into law was really important “not only to provide a strong market signal for businesses, but to get the Legislature to buy into these policies,” Pavley said.

“Several things came together,” she said. “First of all, this is the end of a two-year session and many times, for some of the more challenging bills, it takes all two years.”

The Assembly, Senate and the administration worked together, and the alliance with A.B. 197 author Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia (D) helped address “some of the issues the Assembly had been talking to me about the last two years—greater transparency and oversight in relation to the agencies that implementing these laws.”

When the administration, Assembly and the Senate are aligned, the power and influence of the opposition can be neutralized with leadership, Pavley said. “This year with S.B. 32, other factors really helped. The media started to really pay attention, there were editorials in local papers. Businesses were in the Capitol lobbying on behalf of S.B. 32.”

Double Down on Policies

While California is already on track to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, achieving the longer term goal in S.B. 32—40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—will require more aggressive measures, Pavley said.

Achieving the 40 percent target will require more people driving electric vehicles, enhancing investment in new technologies and the roll out of battery storage, Pavley said.

“The technology is already there,” she said of battery storage. “It’s about reducing costs.”

California needs to “double down on emissions reductions and policies that are already in place, including S.B. 350, which increases energy efficiency in buildings by 50 percent and requires 50 percent of the electricity utilities provide to come from renewable power sources, she said.

The state has “to be thoughtful in how these policies roll out,” Pavley said. Language in the laws “allow flexibility, even perhaps delaying or relooking at measures, to see if there is another way to accomplish emissions reductions,” she said.

Changing Legislature

Pavley’s exit comes as a group of more business friendly Democrats are emerging as a key voting bloc in the state’s Democratically controlled Legislature, making passage of climate and environmental measures tougher. Those votes may come into play should a state appellate court deem California’s auction of greenhouse gas allowances under its cap-and-trade program a tax that must be approved by a super majority of the Legislature or voters.

Even with those concerns looming, Pavley is optimistic current and future state lawmakers will safeguard the state’s role as a climate leader and the policies she helped shape.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and State Senate Pro Tem Kevin De León (D) remain committed to ensuring the state remains a climate leader, Pavley said. Both will be in office for another two years, she said.

Prospects for other lawmakers to take on environment issues are good, she said.

“In the Senate, we have Senators Ricardo Lara (D), Ben Allen (D) and Bob Wieckowski (D) all involved (with climate policies),” she said. Former Assembly Member Nancy Skinner (D), who championed energy efficiency measures, and Henry Stern (D), Pavley’s former legal adviser on climate and energy issues, are running for senate seats and “have a good chance of winning,” Pavley said.

Garcia went to Paris in November with the California delegation for the UN climate talks, Pavley said.

“This wasn’t part of his normal world,” she said. “He’s come away really sort of excited about linking climate with priorities in critically disadvantaged communities.”

Strong Public Support

State lawmakers must understand that most Californians want action on climate, Pavley said.

“The polls show a majority of Californians support climate policies and want the state to do more,” she said, citing a July survey showing 59 percent of voters favoring expansion of the state’s climate goals.

Pavley also wants to remind current and future lawmakers that the state’s climate policies are strong economic engines.

“Ten years after A.B. 32, emissions are going down, the economy is going up,” she said. “We’re seeing real success stories in parts of the state that didn’t think they would be part of the solution but are achieving the benefits of new jobs and a new sustainable economy.”

California’s climate policies started an environment issue, Pavley said.

“It’s really changed now,” she said. “Climate is an environment, public health and economic issue.”

Advice to Lawmakers

As for advice on how to move challenging climate bills, Pavley said having an informed, talented staff helps. Also, she tends not to give up.

“People can have vision and get bills passed,” Pavley said. Navigating the political challenges within the Legislature is all about relationships, she said. “You may disagree with people one day, but you work with them the next.”

What’s Next

Right now, Pavley isn’t sure what’s next for her.

“Maybe working on environmental policies in the nonprofit or private sector,” she said. “I haven’t decided yet. I know it’s not going to involve commuting every week on Southwest.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

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