Bid to renew California’s landmark anti-climate change program hits roadblocks

Efforts to expand California’s primary program to combat climate change have hit a snag.

Two bills that aimed to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program failed to make it out of the Assembly by this week’s deadline. And Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) rebuffed Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to lock in cap and trade’s future by the June 15 budget deadline, saying that the issue was too complicated to complete by that time.

“We have to get it right,” de León said this week.

Cap and trade, a system that requires companies to pay to pollute, aims to force down carbon emissions so that the state can meet its goals of substantially reducing greenhouse gases over the coming decades. The program, which generates significant state revenue for anti-global warming investments, is authorized to operate through 2020. Brown, de León and other lawmakers are hoping to extend it through a two-thirds supermajority vote to insulate the effort from legal challenge.

Since the beginning of the year, lawmakers have discussed numerous proposals to extend the program, but nothing has gained traction.

Thursday night, AB 378 from Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) failed after a long roll call vote that didn’t convince skeptical colleagues. Besides extending the program for a decade, Garcia’s bill would have added new restrictions on air pollution, an issue that has been championed by environmental justice groups. Another cap-and-trade extension bill from Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey) never came up for a vote Thursday.

Aside from the two bills, business-aligned Democrats in the Assembly have released their own cap-and-trade plan, a de León-backed measure remains active in the Senate and Assembly Republicans have expressed interest in working to extend the program.

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In an interview this week with The Times, Brown said he understands the concerns of lawmakers in low-income, high-pollution communities.

“Cleaning up the air where it’s most dirty makes a lot of sense,” Brown said. “With cap and trade, we’ll have billions of dollars to achieve just that.”

De León said his goal was to have a cap-and-trade deal done by the end of the legislative year in September.

Times Sacramento bureau chief John Myers contributed to this report.