BY JEFF HORSEMAN / The Press-Enterprise
Friends and foes of two bills intended to fight climate change in California agree the legislation would have profound effects on Inland residents, where air pollution and reliance on cars are facts of life.
The Senate bills’ supporters say the legislation would improve air quality in this region, which just missed a longstanding federal deadline to reduce small particulate emissions linked to a variety of health problems.
Critics say the bills are vague, give too much power to the state bureaucracy and could lead to higher gas prices and even gas rationing for drivers, including Inland commuters who leave Riverside and San Bernardino counties every day for work.
With the Legislature set to adjourn Friday, Sept. 11, the bills -- SB 32 and SB 350 -- are the focus of a nationally watched showdown pitting Democratic leaders, environmentalists and public health advocates against the oil and gas industry and business interests.
Even though Democrats control the Legislature, it’s unclear whether there are enough Democratic votes in the Assembly to approve the bills, which passed the Senate in June. Several Inland assembly members -- Jose Medina, D-Riverside, Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino and Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona -- have been the focus of intense lobbying by both sides and the bills could be amended to satisfy on-the-fence lawmakers.
California liberals have long prided themselves on making the Golden State a world leader in the battle against climate change, which is blamed for rising sea levels, the state’s ongoing drought and rampant wildfires. An ongoing “cap-and-trade” program encourages large-scale polluters to use clean energy sources.
Fighting climate change is a central element of Gov. Jerry Brown’s second and final term. In April, he signed an executive order to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. During a conference at the Vatican in July, he blasted climate change skeptics as “troglodytes.”
Actress Halle Berry and Catholic bishops appeared in Sacramento last month to lobby for the Senate bills.
SB 350, sponsored by Senate leader Kevin De León, a Los Angeles Democrat, calls for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by vehicles by 2030, equal to removing 36 million cars and trucks from the road.
Also by 2030, the bill would require 50 percent of California’s energy to come from renewable resources and a doubling of the energy efficiency in existing buildings.
SB 32, originally introduced by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, would require the state Air Resources Board to set new rules so that greenhouse gas emissions are 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below those levels by 2050.
Penny Newman, executive director of the Jurupa Valley-based Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, said the bills are on her organization’s priority list.
“SB 350, we think ... sets some goals that are worth getting to,” she said. “With the appropriate commitment to it, we’ll be able to achieve (those goals).”
Poor air quality is a chronic challenge in Southern California, which failed this year to meet a federal deadline for cutting toxic soot and small particulate air pollution. The failure means the region could lose federal funding, although Environmental Protection Agency officials have said no penalties are forthcoming.
Leading the charge against the bills is the California Driver’s Alliance, which is sponsored by the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry group for oil and gas companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron.
The alliance’s website contends SB 350 “will limit how often we can drive our own cars. The state will also be collecting and monitoring our personal driving habits and tracking how much gas we use.”
Critics also warn that SB 350 could lead to gas rationing and fees imposed on minivans and pickups.
Newman said the bills’ opponents are using scare tactics that have no basis in truth. There are a number of ways California can cut petroleum use, including increasing fuel efficiency standards and providing vouchers for small businesses to buy low- to zero-emission vehicles, she said.
A regional economic development group opposes SB 350. Paul Granillo, president and CEO of the San Bernardino-based Inland Empire Economic Partnership, said SB 350 sets goals that, while admirable, are “technically unreachable” with no specific plan to attain them.
The legislation will hit the Inland region especially hard, he said.
“The average person in the Inland Empire is not driving a brand-new car,” Granillo said. “Exactly how are they supposed to afford that new fuel-efficient car?”
SB 350 also cedes legislative power to an unelected body in the Air Resources Board, Granillo said. But Newman said the Legislature has oversight over the agencies responsible for getting to the bills’ targets.
“Does the Legislature really want to make the day-to-day decisions on this?” she said. “It would be tied up for years.”
State Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, voted for SB 350 and SB 32.
“Kids in San Bernardino County suffer higher rates of asthma than children statewide, so I’m pleased that SB 350 and SB 32 set clear goals that will help clean our air and strengthen our community’s health,” she said in an emailed statement.
Sens. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga and Richard Roth, D-Riverside opposed the bills.
“I did not support Senate Bill 32 or SB 350 because the state should not take any action that slows economic growth, especially given the fact that many people throughout Inland Southern California are unemployed or underemployed,” Roth said in an emailed statement.
Supporters and opponents have filled the airwaves, mailboxes and social media with ads, some specifically targeting undecided Assembly members. Bill backers rallied outside Rodriguez’s Chino office Thursday.
Medina, who represents Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris, said he doesn’t feel any pressure over his vote on the bills.
He said his concerns about the legislation is that it’s “too much too fast.” Medina said he’s leaning against SB 350 and he’d liked to see the requirement to cut motor vehicle petroleum use by 50 percent taken out.
“I think that especially the oil part hits our area more than it would others,” Medina said.
In an emailed statement, Brown, whose district includes part of San Bernardino along with Rialto, Colton and Grand Terrace, said: “It is extremely important that we have clean air and a thriving economy because the people of the 47th Assembly District need both.”
“I am still waiting to review the final draft of each piece of legislation and when I do, I will do what is best for the people of the 47th.”