The tortured tale of two transportation bills

Or how I learned to love the fight for climate change

by Jane Bender, Board member of The Climate Center

Here’s the bottom line

An overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in the most progressive state in the union cannot pass a study bill on reducing vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because of one person—the Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

And here’s the whole story.

We were thrilled two years ago when Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced AB 1745, a bill stipulating that starting in 2040, any new passenger vehicle had to be zero emissions to be registered in California.

This was truly a “speed and scale” solution responding to the thorny issue of GHG-smothering transportation in this state. The Climate Center was behind the bill from the first. But alas, the fossil fuel industry got wind of it. The industry unleashed their lobbyists and Ting was forced to withdraw the bill. It didn’t have a chance even to get out of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Ting didn’t give up however. Working with a coalition of environmental and clean air activists, he introduced AB 40, a bill, that took a two-step process. For the first step, the bill called for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to come up with a feasibility study of how such a ban could work for our state. First a study.

The second step would have been a bill to implement CARB’s proposals. Plenty of time for analysis, for public hearings, for debate.

Again, we at the Center jumped on AB 40. Ting worked with Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Solano County) and chair of the Transportation Committee. Frazier was the key to getting AB 40 out of committee onto the floor for a vote. Frazier strongly opposed AB 40, as he had AB 1745 the year before.

The opposition was just as vocal and effective this time around. The business community wrote a long letter opposing all aspects of the bill.  Ting tried to work with Frazier on compromises. But in the end, Ting gave up. Frazier’s demands weakened AB 40 so significantly that it became unworkable. Frazier wouldn’t budge and Rendon, the Speaker of the Assembly, remained hands off.

So there you have it. The challenge facing us has risen to new heights. We are fighting for the future and against the forces of denial. And yes, I feel inspired by the challenge.

This is the most important thing we can be doing for our grandchildren, and for the millions of people who, like the typhoon victims in Africa, the flood victims in the Mid-West, the fire survivors in California, are now and will continue to face massive dislocations and chaos.

This blockade in our state legislature is a clarion call to action for all of us.  And I hope you love the call as much as I do. We need a lot of passion as we go forth.

Stay tuned for ways you can be involved. And in the meantime, take the clean car pledge.


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