By extending its controversial cap and trade system for another decade, California this week officially replaced the federal government as the nation’s most powerful actor on global warming — and in the process got several Republicans to buck their national party leadership.
Seven Republicans in California’s state House on Monday night backed the measure, which requires companies to buy credits for their greenhouse gas emissions. The program, the most ambitious of its kind in the U.S., will now remain in place through 2030.
The unprecedented bipartisan support for the system, which also saw one GOP state senator sign on, extended beyond California. Republican Party elders such as former Secretary of State George Shultz and others in the bipartisan Climate Leadership Council lauded the state for its unflinching focus on climate change even in the midst of a massive deregulatory push from the Trump administration.
“Passing this bill on a bipartisan basis is something on which Ronald Reagan would be proud,” Mr. Shultz wrote in a letter Monday just before the state Senate cleared the bill.
California’s cap and trade structure — which sets an annual emissions cap that drops by 3 percent each year, and requires companies to buy credits if they exceed the threshold — aims to achieve a 40 percent reduction in state emissions by 2030 when compared to 1990 levels.
While conservatives in California have argued that the system will raise costs for businesses and consumers, Gov. Jerry Brown said the state has a moral obligation to act.
“Tonight, California stood tall and once again, boldly confronted the existential threat of our time,” he said in a statement Monday night after the measure cleared the state legislature.
Even in Washington, there’s evidence that Republicans won’t unflinchingly oppose all action on climate change. Last week 46 House Republicans banded together to block an amendment that would’ve prohibited the Defense Department from conducting any research on climate change.
The opposition came from the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which has been something of a moderate force amid a push from conservatives and the White House to stop virtually all action on climate change.
Specialists say that vote, along with California’s cap and trade extension, prove that there will be consistent pushback — including from Republicans — against the administration’s effort to undo former President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda, and in response to President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.
“These are strange times. Despite or perhaps because of Mr. Trump’s intransigence on climate change — and his aggressive administrative actions to dismantle the federal response to climate change — political will for climate action appears to be on the rise elsewhere in America, including in Congress,” said Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. “The Trump administration’s actions — perhaps, most importantly, Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement — seems to be catalyzing and/or redoubling climate leadership in states, cities and businesses as well.”
Indeed, Mr. Brown, a Democrat, has explicitly said that his state will step in to fill the void created by the president in the aftermath of the Paris withdrawal. Mr. Brown, along with other Democrat-led states across the country, have said they’ll continue to abide by the terms of the Paris deal, which called on the U.S. to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025 when compared to 2005 levels.
While it’s not clear whether the system will meet its targets in the years to come, it’s obvious that at least some Republicans in California don’t feel beholden to the Trump administration on environmental issues.
“California Republicans are different than national Republicans,” said state Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “Many of us believe that climate change is real, and that it’s a responsibility we have to work to address it.”
At the federal level, environmentalists hope that the recent vote to preserve the Pentagon’s ability to conduct climate research is a sign that at least some in the GOP are willing to break with the president.
“The Pentagon has long warned that climate change is a grave threat to our national security, and the secretary of defense says climate change threatens our military readiness today,” said Sara Jordan, a legislative representative with the League of Conservation Voters. “Now even a bipartisan majority of Congress agrees — showing just how out of step President Trump and his polluter allies are in their efforts to put polluter profits ahead of our health and national security.”