California Senate OKs cap and trade bill, sends to Assembly

California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, responds to a question while testifying in support of Assembly Bill 398, by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, one of two bills to extend state's cap and trade program, during a hearing of the Senate Environmental Quality committee, Thursday, July 13, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, responds to a question while testifying in support of Assembly Bill 398, by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, one of two bills to extend state's cap and trade program, during a hearing of the Senate Environmental Quality committee, Thursday, July 13, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to keep alive California's signature climate change initiative has cleared a major hurdle.

The state Senate approved the bill in a 28-12 vote on Monday. The Assembly is now scheduled to begin debating it.

Brown wants lawmakers to give another decade of life to the state's cap-and-trade program, which puts a limit on carbon emissions and requires companies to obtain permits to pollute.

Supporters overcame stiff opposition from environmental justice advocates who say the bill is too friendly to the oil industry and is not aggressive enough to save the planet from climate change.

Republican Sen. Tom Berryhill joined all Democrats in support.

Senators also approved related legislation that aims to monitor and clean up the air around major sources of pollution.

Brown holds up the climate initiative as a model to be replicated around the world to confront rising global temperatures.

The bill has global implications as the largest U.S. state moves to be a leader in reducing carbon emissions at a time when President Donald Trump is pulling back from fighting global warming.

Brown portrays the initiative as essential for the survival of civilization, but critics say it fails to aggressively combat pollution. It is one of his highest priorities as he nears the end of his fourth term, but he's struggled to line up support from two-thirds of lawmakers that he will need.

The program expires in 2020 if lawmakers don't renew it. The real battle is in the Assembly, where 54 votes are needed to pass it but where Democrats have only 53 members present due to a lawmaker's longstanding absence and a fresh vacancy from another who went to Congress. That makes Republican support essential.

But the plan has mobilized intense opposition from conservatives who say it will raise costs in an already expensive state as well as from liberals who say it's too timid for progressive California.

Cap and trade puts a limit on carbon emissions and requires polluters to obtain permits to release greenhouse gases. Some permits, known as allowances, are given away while others are auctioned, generating billions of dollars in revenue for the state.

Lawmakers are considering a package of measures, one to renew cap and trade through 2030 and another aimed at improving local air quality. Senate leadership added a third measure as debate began that would give Republicans more of a say in how to spend money collected through cap and trade.

Brown sounded an apocalyptic tone in a rare personal appeal before a Senate committee last week, telling lawmakers that failing to pass the extension would lead to fires, disease and mass migration, not to mention higher costs for food and gasoline.

The idea is supported by national environmental groups and business interests, which echo Brown's refrain that cap and trade is the most affordable way for California to meet its ambitious climate goals.

State law requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030 — among the most aggressive mandates for carbon reduction in the world. 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.

The legislation shows the divisions between environmentalists who work nationally, focusing on reducing global carbon emissions and creating a policy that can be replicated elsewhere, and environmental justice advocates who work locally.

The latter group said cap and trade allows polluters to keep fouling the air around major sources of pollution like oil refineries and objected to concessions Brown made to the oil industry and other polluters in a bid to win support from Republicans and moderate Democrats.

Some lawmakers have questioned why Brown so urgently wants to extend a program that doesn't expire for another 2½ years. Brown says extending it now would give businesses the certainty they need to plan.

A quick extension would also bolster Brown's global advocacy for climate action. He made a high-profile trip to China last month, plans to attend a climate summit in Germany in November and will host a climate conference next year in San Francisco.

This story has been updated.

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