Facebook pixel Assistant Dean Carson Bruno on "Brown's Legacy and Republican Activist Revenge" | Fox & Hounds | Newsroom | School of Public Policy Newsroom Skip to main content
Pepperdine | School of Public Policy

Assistant Dean Carson Bruno on "Brown's Legacy and Republican Activist Revenge" | Fox & Hounds

Brown’s Legacy and Republican Activist Revenge

Carson Bruno | August 31, 2017 | Fox & Hounds

In what was an uncertain move, last month, Brown and his allies pushed for an extension of the AB 32-imposed cap and trade scheme to 2030.  While the necessary majority to pass the bill was in no doubt, Governor Brown insisted that the extension receive a two-thirds majority to avoid lawsuits insisting the cap and trade funds are in fact taxes and thus challenging the legality of the program.  With some Democrats unsure of the extension, Brown needed to bipartisan support. Ultimately (and surprisingly) eight Republicans – seven in the Assembly and one in the Senate – helped Brown overcome six Democratic defections to get to the two-thirds majority.

Part of me applauds the Republicans for pushing forward with a vote that they knew would raise the ire of activists. And ire it did raise; following outcry from activists, both California RNC Committeemembers, the state party’s executive board, and numerous county central committees called for the removal of Assembly Caucus Leader, Chad Mayes. The infighting was successful and now Assembly Republicans will have a new leader in northern California Assemblyman, Brian Dahle.

Mayes and the other seven Republicans are correct that breaking with Republican orthodoxy on issues like the environment is absolutely necessary to make the electoral gains the California Republican Party must make to return to relevancy. But they did err on the cap and trade vote; placing their stamp of approval on a structurally flawed, faux-environmental policy may not yield the lasting political or policy gains they hope.

California’s policymakers and many of its residents want to be global environmental leaders. But the facts don’t line up. AB 32’s cap and trade is more a big government, regulatory quagmire, tax-and-spend scheme than a market alternative. It has yielded huge swaths of economic rule-making to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats blinded by environmental zeal, creating slush funds for Sacramento politicians to use on pet projects to buy support.  Meanwhile, Californians suffer and our environment sees few benefits.

Fact: California is no better at reducing carbon dioxide emissions than the rest of United States, despite the regulatory and financial hurdles California businesses and consumers must jump over to emit.

Since 2000, California has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an annual average of 0.4 percent. The rest of the United States? By 0.5 percent. In fact, since 2012, when AB 32’s cap and trade fully went into effect, California’s emissions have actually increased by an annual average of 0.5 percent, while the rest of the country has seen an annual average decrease of 0.1 percent.

Even if you look at per capita emissions or emissions per real GDP, the story is the same. Since 2012, the rest of the United States has outperformed California on per capita emissions reduction (1 percent compared to 0.4 percent); moreover, in terms of carbon intensity of the economy, California’s 1.8 percent average annual reduction since 2012 is no different than the other states’ 1.7 percent. And again, all of this is despite the fact that Californians pay more for gas and electricity and have stricter standards when it comes to emitting pollutants.

The California Air Resources Board loves to tout cap and trade’s progress, but it looks through a lens of only California. When compared to what is happening nationwide, the Golden State’s progress is significantly less striking.

California has two major hurdles it needs to surpass in order to make significant movement on emissions. And on both of these, California Republicans could have presented stark alternatives to the failing big government charade that is the Air Resources Board’s cap and trade.

For one, until California reduces its love affair with cars, it’ll be hard to make a significant dent.  56 percent of California’s emissions came from transportation in 2016 compared to just 35 percent for the rest of the country.  Before anyone says it, no high speed rail (built with cap and trade funds) will not solve this problem. California’s vehicle use is a regional enigma and increasingly tied to the housing unaffordability crisis.

Secondly, California’s resistance to treat all low carbon electricity options equally will continue to stunt its progress. Nuclear and large hydroelectric power – despite being consistent, zero-carbon, base load power – is at a severe disadvantage compared to solar or wind.  Including these power sources as acceptable renewable options would boost California’s low carbon portfolio from 28 percent to 50 percent and make it significantly more feasible to approach critical mass or even 100 percent of power generation.

Republicans missed an opportunity with the cap and trade extension debate to push for policies that could have worked to improve regional mass transit, housing, and nuclear power development. One option could have been a three bill package: 1) eliminating the cap and trade charade altogether replacing it with a refundable carbon tax (note: cap and trade is already a tax in sheep’s clothing) with a portion of the taxes immediately refunded back to taxpayers (means-tested to help low income families deal with the higher gas and electricity prices) and the other portion specifically dedicated to regional transit projects; 2) a constitutional “by-right” zoning amendment to inhibit NIMBYs from hijacking the development process; and 3) scrapping California’s renewable portfolio standard in favor of a low carbon portfolio standard, thus protecting and promoting nuclear and large hydroelectric in addition to wind and solar.

Could Republicans say their vote was the pragmatic option when dealing with a Democratic caucus intent on extending cap and trade? Absolutely. But pragmatism only serves the greater good when the policy itself is good. And thus far, California’s cap and trade has been more faux environmentalism than environmental pioneering.