San Diego Union-Tribune: We must combat climate change without forcing more Californians into poverty or out of state

By Patricia Bates
Friday, October 30, 2020

Published by the San Diego Union-Tribune on October 29, 2020

In our system of state government, the governor is equal to the Legislature — no more and no less.

Yet in recent weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued two sweeping executive orders without the approval of legislators or a vote of the people. On Sept. 23, he signed an executive order banning the sale of new gasoline-fueled cars by 2035. On Oct. 7, he signed another executive order to dedicate 30 percent of California’s land to conservation by 2030.

While I share the governor’s goals to improve California’s environment, his decrees undermine the Legislature’s role in creating sound policy and turn over too much power to unelected government bureaucrats.

Policies to successfully address climate change require informed input from the people’s representatives. My legislative colleagues and I considered Assembly Bill 3030 this year that sought to accomplish the same goals as the governor’s decree on land conservation.

However, concerns about AB 3030’s significant costs raised by counties, public water districts and outdoor recreational enthusiasts meant that additional deliberation was needed. There was significant bipartisan opposition to the bill, which barely survived the Assembly and which died in the Senate.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee estimated AB 3030 could result in costs of “several hundreds of millions of dollars or more.” Local governments expressed concerns about ambiguity, lack of identified funding sources and regulatory overreach. Others noted that the bill failed to even acknowledge the numerous state and federal environmental laws and regulations already protecting California’s natural resources. With the stroke of a pen, the governor ignored all of those concerns.

Even more troubling is the governor’s order banning the sale of new gasoline-fueled cars by 2035. There was legislation introduced in 2018 (Assembly Bill 1745) to enact the ban by 2040. The bill was so ill-conceived that it did not even get a vote in a legislative committee. The bill did not address issues such as energy grid reliability or electric car affordability.

Passing a law (or issuing a decree) to ban new gasoline-fueled cars is one thing, but ensuring there is enough energy to power millions of new electric cars while not causing more blackouts during a heat wave is another matter entirely. Furthermore, details about ensuring adequate charging infrastructure and affordable zero-emission vehicles for families with low incomes still need to be worked out.

We must find ways to achieve our climate change goals without forcing more Californians into poverty or out of the state. That is why discussions about these difficult issues and more need to take place in the Legislature.

The governor’s decrees are especially curious given that they ignore the legislators of his own party, which enjoys supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate.

I represent a coastal district, and, as vice chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, I want to support legislation that safeguards California’s environment, protects jobs and ensures recreational opportunities for everyone. If the governor had worked with the Legislature, we could have addressed concerns about cost and accountability, just as we did on Assembly Bill 793, the bipartisan plastic recycling bill that he signed into law in August.

AB 793 mandates plastic beverage bottles must contain on average 50 percent recycled plastic by 2030. It imposes mandates of 15 percent recycled content in beverage bottles by 2022 and 25 percent by 2025. It also assesses financial penalties on manufacturers that fail to achieve the mandates. The executive director of Californians Against Waste, a Sacramento-based environmental group, called AB 793 the “most ambitious, aggressive recycled plastics content law in the world.”

I supported AB 793 because it genuinely took into account the concerns of communities, environmentalists and businesses. AB 793 shows that there are ways for the governor and legislators from both sides of the aisle to work together to protect our environment and economy. Sadly, the governor’s decrees undermine efforts to find a consensus and instead delegate critical details to unelected bureaucrats.

Legislators — not bureaucrats — are accountable to California’s voters. We have an obligation to listen to the concerns of all of our constituents and ensure their voices are heard in the designing of policies that will affect their lives.

It is imperative that the Legislature reclaim its place as a co-equal branch of government.