Politics at work in Calif. emission standards push

Legal News Line Dec. 10, 2008, 11:53am

Dianne Feinstein (D)

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has made a determined push that Congress force the Big Three automakers to help reduce emissions as a critical part of any financial bailout.

Feinstein wrote a letter Tuesday seeking a guarantee that U.S. automakers will produce cars that lower emissions and reduce gas mileage. She also wants an assurance that General Motors, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. will stop lobbying efforts to block California's emission and mileage standards, which leads the nation.

Feinstein effectively joins a call made by California Attorney General Jerry Brown late last week, when he fired off a letter of his own to Congressional leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., asking for just such support.

Brown did not send his letter to Feinstein, a long-time political ally widely believed to be Brown's greatest threat in a 2010 run for governor.

Feinstein's eleventh-hour push for emission standards appears to be more useful politically than practically, however. A deal with the automakers will likely scrap such language, deemed a "poison pill" by the Bush Administration.

Brown, who was governor of California from 1975 to 1983, made the reduction of emissions energy efficiency a central part of his political platform in each of the many public offices he has filled during his four-decade long political career.

Feinstein -- seen in California as more pro-business and moderate than the liberal Brown -- joined San Francisco City Attorney Kamala Harris, a rising star in California's Democratic Party, in sending a pair of letters about the need for emission reduction.

"We recommend, and would wholeheartedly support," Feinstein wrote, "language in the pending automakers' bailout bill that would prohibit the industry from using any funds for litigation and/or advocacy against states' efforts to either adapt or enforce the California greenhouse gas emissions standards."

Brown's letter pointed out how the automakers' lobby has attacked California's push to apply strict emissions standards to greenhouse gas emissions since first proposed in 2005.

"That's why I'm urging you to condition any taxpayer assistance to the automobile industry on an explicit authorization for California and other states to implement California's landmark greenhouse gas emission standards," Brown wrote.

With energy proven as a popular topic among voters during last month's presidential election, and with taxpayers widely skeptical of more taxpayer bailouts, positions on this issue for a 2010 campaign has clearly become a matter of significant priority for all potential candidates.

Case in point, Harris has already announced her intention to run for California attorney general should Brown decide not to seek re-election in 2010.

Brown's determination to run again for governor broke wide open this week after former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown wrote in a column that the attorney general had asked him if he knew whether Feinstein intended to run for governor.

He then held a high-profile fundraiser in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, sponsored by former Democratic California Gov. Gray Davis.

Brown made a similar fundraising push in the summer, in which it was announced that he had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars - far more than he would need to run for re-election at attorney general - in just a few weeks.

Brown is now making a similar, big dollar push, trying to capture the role of favorite in a race that remains two years away.

According to published reports, Brown raised more than $400,000 in a two-week period around Thanksgiving, prior to Tuesday night's lavish fundraiser. Campaign contributions from several casinos were made at the maximum level of $12,000.

Brown surprisingly backed California Indian Casino's resistance from further state regulation earlier this year. At the time, several commentators accused Brown of using his office to pander for future campaign contributions from casinos, a charge he dismissed later in an interview with Legal Newsline.

"They can say that about every thing I do," Brown said at the time.

Brown's campaign account is believed to have as much as $4 million cash on hand, far more than the two other Democrats who have set up campaign accounts, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.

Most polls show Brown far ahead of all contenders except Feinstein. Two polls taken with Feinstein -- who has not announced her intention to run -- in the mix found the Senator far surpassing the attorney general.

Feinstein gave an interview in the fall in which she openly discussed being interested in ending her political career by returning to her home state and helping to fix California's long-standing budget problems. Feinstein has built a close allegiance with popular Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will be termed out of office in 2010.

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