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June 6, 2013
Guest Opinion: Money grab would hurt state's climate cause

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(June 6 -- By Laurie Wayburn, Special to The Bee)

If you listen to Jerry Brown, you'd think he was one of the foremost climate change leaders around. At UC Berkeley's May graduating class speech on May 20, he said, "the changes in our climate are ... soon to be irreversible." On May 23, The Bee reported that Gov. Brown "complained bitterly" that "the news media ignores climate change."

Naturally, you would think he would proudly lead California's effort to reduce our climate pollution. Right?

Wrong.

This governor talks a great game, but he is not walking the walk.

Paradoxically, in his May Revise budget he proposed diverting money dedicated to fighting climate pollution. The Legislature should correct this ill-considered proposal.

Part of the genius of Assembly Bill 32, California's landmark climate law, is that it created a revenue source from polluter fees to help remediate global warming.

The auction of pollution allowances under the cap-and-trade program generates hundreds of millions of new dollars to fight global warming - investment sorely needed if we are to have any hope of reducing the soaring rise of CO 2 emissions.

But the governor's proposal instead uses all $500 million of projected cap-and-trade revenue as a loan to the general fund, despite the fact that this would simply further increase a rainy-day reserve! And this has the added cost of having to repay the loan with interest. For a fiscally conservative governor, this proposal makes no sense.

Many of us remember how governors have continually used the "loan" to the general fund of the revenue from the bottle bill. This loan is "repaid" every year, only to be loaned out again immediately to cover general fund expenses. As Mark Twain purportedly said about smoking; "It's easy to quit; I've done it many times." It is easy to promise to repay a loan to the general fund - it's another to really pry that money loose for its intended purpose.

Fortunately, there is a growing chorus from legislators on both sides of the aisle calling for these funds to be invested in tangible, climate-

restoring projects now. Members of the budget subcommittees, the Budget Conference Committee, and leaders from policy committees and the Latino Caucus recognize that these investments will create jobs and stimulate private investment. They know this will accelerate California's efforts to slow global warming and maintain the state's global leadership in pioneering a safe, low-carbon future.

Global carbon dioxide concentrations exceeded 400 parts per million last month - for the first time in 800,000 years. The governor noted this in his Berkeley speech. Surely he realizes that delaying action favors the ongoing disaster?

The Legislature should seize the opportunity to correct the governor's misguided loan proposal, and begin investing in programs and projects that are consistent with the California Air Resources Board's "Investment Plan for Cap and Trade Revenue." The administration recently finalized this through a lengthy public process, identifying three areas for effective and legal uses of these funds: reducing emissions from transportation, increasing energy efficiency, and decreasing forest loss and natural systems degradation.

While energy efficiency has a new, dedicated funding source from Proposition 39, the other two areas are woefully underfunded. Indeed, preventing forest loss has never been a significant budget item.

California's only real investments in protecting our forests and their substantial carbon banks have been through bond-funded programs which are nearly exhausted. Perhaps this is why California has already lost over 40 percent of its forests, even though these are among the most productive and effective carbon banks globally.

Investing now in forest conservation and restoration would reduce millions of tons of CO 2 emissions over the next few years - simultaneously protecting our threatened water sources, enhancing wildlife habitat, and providing needed jobs in underemployed parts of the state. There are a number of such projects ready to be implemented with demonstrable carbon emissions reductions that are scientifically verifiable, permanent and highly cost-effective. They set the standard, globally.

Noting that the governor lowballed revenue estimates by several billion dollars compared with the independent Legislative Analyst's Office, the Senate and Assembly have adopted higher, alternative revenue forecasts that anticipate more realistic amounts. Given this additional revenue, the Legislature should abandon the governor's misguided loan proposal. Using the governor's own admonition to act now to fight global warming, they should direct these climate auction funds as the law intended, and as is urgently needed to address the climate crisis and stimulate economic investment.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez have previously shown great climate leadership. Pérez authored AB 1532 last year, establishing a framework for the use of this auction revenue, and Steinberg is responsible for SB 375, the landmark law creating incentives for smarter growth. Ensuring that cap-and-trade revenue is used for solid, "shovel-ready" investments in this budget furthers their legacy of important climate legislation.

Then, the governor will be given the chance to do as he says, setting a global example of how to really fight global warming - with deeds, not words.

Laurie Wayburn is president and co-founder of the Pacific Forest Trust in San Francisco.

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