Something New in River City

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET
  • Carl Pope Former executive director and chairman, Sierra Club

Sacramento, CA -- We reached a tipping point in our battle to protect the Arctic Wildlife Refuge when Bill Clinton refused to cave in to Republican congressional demands that he sign a budget which would have allowed drilling. Clinton, instead, allowed a temporary shut-down of the federal government. Something similar is happening on global warming at the state level. Earlier this year Pennsylvania Governor Rendell allowed a one-day shut-down to try to get legislative approval of a funding program for renewable energy -- then backed down. But California has now gone without a budget for six weeks, and the deadlock is having a major impact on delivery of state services. One of the two sticking points between the Governor and the Democratic leadership on the one hand, and the Republican leadership in the state Senate on the other, is global warming policy. Specifically, Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is clearly one of the leading candidates for Governor when incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger terms out in 2010, has brought a series of lawsuits against local governments which failed to take into account the impact that their local land use decisions would have on carbon dioxide emissions. (Brown has also continued a lawsuit brought by his predecessor, current state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, against the auto industry for their role in global warming.)

Republicans in the state Senate, seeing that Brown's lawsuits threaten the developers who fill their campaign coffers, tried to attach language to the state budget prohibiting such lawsuits under California's environmental assessment law, CEQA, which is tougher than its federal equivalent, NEPA. But instead of giving in to get a state budget, the Democratic leaders in both the Assembly and the Senate have hung tough on Brown's right to use the courts to clean up global warming pollution. Looking back only a few years, it would have been unthinkable for political leaders to stand tough on global warming, even if the proposal was an overwhelmingly popular one like Rendell's renewable energy funding. But allowing a budget deadlock to continue to defend the right of the Attorney General to bring global warming lawsuits! Even today, that is a very big change, and one that suggests that the next few years are going to see some major breakthroughs in the politics of climate change.