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What The Oil Industry Wants In A California Climate Change Deal

Damian Dovarganes / AP

California Gov. Jerry Brown, sitting center, surrounded by government officials, signs landmark legislation, bill SB350 by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De Leon, third from left, to combat climate change.

Damian Dovarganes / AP

The oil industry’s lead advocate at the California Capitol says the industry supports Governor Jerry Brown’s effort to extend the state’s fight against climate change – but only with some significant changes.

In an interview with Capital Public Radio, Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) President Cathy Reheis-Boyd says the oil industry supports a new greenhouse gas emission reduction mandate once California’s existing target sunsets in 2020. She would also like to reauthorize the expiring “cap and trade” program the state is using to reach that target.

“Obviously, climate change has to be addressed,” Reheis-Boyd says. But she's insisting on a more business-friendly approach.

“We understand California wants to be a leader,“ says Reheis-Boyd. “We understand where the governor is. But we’ve got to do it together so that these businesses and our companies can continue to exist in this state.”

And to WSPA, that means setting a “reasonable” emissions mandate. California is expected to reach its current goal reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. But Reheis-Boyd says she’s not convinced the Legislature’s current proposal of a 40 percent cut from 2020 to 2030, is achievable.

“A lot of people are concerned about that aggressive goal,” she says.

Reheis-Boyd also wants some significant changes to California's current system. She says the state should increase carbon offsets for companies that emit greenhouse gasses, and that “cap and trade” revenues should be put toward more “cost-effective” programs than where they go now, such as affordable housing projects and other legislative priorities. (A quarter of the revenues go to California's high-speed rail project – a top priority of Brown's - but Reheis-Boyd said she isn't questioning the governor's goals on high-speed rail.) 

Crucially, she wants these changes placed in legislation, not left up to the state Air Resources Board – a position shared by many legislative Democrats.

“No, we’re not comfortable with a bill that just says, we’re all gonna look at that later,“ Reheis-Boyd says. “We’d be comfortable with saying, we’re gonna design some of that now so that we’re all comfortable in the post-2020 world.”

Climate change talks at the Capitol appeared to sputter earlier this month, prompting the governor’s chief of staff to vow that California will extend its climate goals and “cap and trade” program one way or another – in the Legislature this year or next, or at the ballot in 2018.

That same day, Brown opened a political committee to raise money for a ballot measure.

Reheis-Boyd downplayed the governor's threat of a ballot measure – “I just take it as another piece of the process” – but said she’d rather not see an election battle.

“I think it’s always better when you try to work things out through the Legislature,“ she says. “So I hope that’s possible.”

Brown and Senate Leader Kevin de León have sharply criticized the oil industry for blocking California’s fight against climate change. Neither office responded to our requests for comment Friday afternoon in response to this interview.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio