SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown warned of a California ravaged by forest fires, disease and mass migration if lawmakers fail to renew the state's signature program to fight climate change, which he called "a threat to organized human existence."
California's longest-serving governor, who has spent most of his life in and around public service, told lawmakers "this is the most important vote of your life." Brown, 79, even warned lawmakers and his critics it's them, not him, who will be around to experience the worst devastation wrought by global warming.
"A lot of you people are going to be alive," he said Thursday, turning to a room packed with lobbyists and advocates on both sides of the debate. "And you're going to be alive in a horrible situation that you're going to see mass migrations, vector diseases, forest fires, Southern California burning up. That's real, guys."
The urgency of Brown's pitch comes as he scrambles to line up support to renew California's cap-and-trade program in the face of opposition from conservatives who warn about costs and liberals who say it doesn't do enough to protect the environment and clean dirty air.
"It does not get us to the real, rapid emission reductions that our planet and our communities desperately need," said Amy Vanderwarker, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance.
Despite the opposition, Democrats on a key Senate committee passed a package of bills Thursday, one to renew cap and trade and another aimed at improving local air quality. Both are facing a critical hurdle next week: Votes on the floor of the Assembly and Senate. The cap-and-trade plan needs two-thirds to support to pass, and almost every Republican is opposed to it.
The governor is deeply invested in the outcome of those votes, which would bolster his efforts to position California as a global climate leader.
California governors rarely appear at legislative proceedings, but Brown sat through an entire four-hour hearing, taking notes as his critics spoke and occasionally shaking his head or muttering his disagreement.
Cap and trade puts a limit on carbon emissions and requires polluters to obtain permits to release greenhouse gases. The governor touts the program around the world as an effective way to affordably address climate change, but its legal authorization expires in 2020. The current proposal would expand the program until 2030.
State law requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. Without cap and trade, state regulators will be forced to enact restrictive mandates on polluters that would be burdensome for businesses and significantly more expensive for consumers, Brown said.
"That will be noticed by your constituents," he said.
He also punched back against critics who suggest he's pressing the issue for personal gain.
"I'm not here about some cockamamie legacy that some people talk about," he said. "This isn't about me. I'm going to be dead."
But passage of the bill isn't coming easy. Environmental justice advocates, who work to improve air-quality at the neighborhood level, say concessions Brown made to the oil industry and other polluters will harm the environment. The bill prohibits local air quality management districts from further restricting carbon emissions of stationary sources like oil refineries. It also allows for some pollution permits to be distributed for free.
Brown and legislative leaders looked to address those concerns with the companion legislation that aims to monitor and improve air quality around major sources of pollution, but the bill has not swayed environmental justice advocates.