AG: Greenhouse regulations are an insurance policy against catastrophe

Chris Rizo Nov. 16, 2009, 12:02am

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-California Attorney General Jerry Brown says when it comes to enacting legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Brown, who is considering a run for the state's 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has expended significant effort as California's chief legal officer seeing to it that federal and local officials alike do their share to limit emissions of gasses that some scientists believe is warming the planet.

"A lot of people just say there is no such thing as global warming: It's all a conspiracy by the U.N. scientists, by (former U.S. Vice President) Al Gore who wants to promote his book or whatever he is promoting, and his career, legacy," Brown said.

Yet, he said peer-reviewed scientists at leading academic institutions -- including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- have released evidence this year to the contrary.

"What they're finding is that the worst case scenario that the U.N. put out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ... is being validated by the recent data," Brown said.

International scientists, he said, are now saying the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been growing. Between the 1990s and the beginning of this decade, the rate of increase virtually tripled from 1.1 parts-per-million to 3.5 parts-per-million.

"There is an accelerating rate of carbonization," Brown said. "The problem is getting worse."

Enacting emissions standards is a safeguard just in case international scientists are correct that the earth is warming, Brown said. He likened the regulations to an insurance policy against catastrophic effects of a warming planet.

"This not about whether it's absolutely going to happen -- because it is -- but might it happen," Brown told a group of civil defense attorneys last week. "What's the risk that your house will burn down? Pretty remote. But I would venture to say everyone in this room has fire insurance."

A study released recently says California's air pollution levels linked to global warming increased over the past 20 years. The report by Environment California said the state's air pollution has increased 10 percent since 1990.

"More global warming pollution than ever before isn't a record we want to set," said Environment California Global Warming Associate Charlotte Glennie. "It's time to take back control of our energy future. By harnessing the power of the wind and the sun, we can cut pollution and transition to clean energy sources that don't harm the environment, never run out, and create new, local jobs."

Brown has filed a bevy of lawsuits seeking to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse emissions include: carbon dioxide, hydrofluorocarbons, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.

In June, Brown challenged the city of Pleasanton's 13-year-old limit on housing construction, saying the Bay Area community's housing plan was, among other things, adding to vehicle use and greenhouse gas emissions.

"Pleasanton's draconian and illegal limit on new housing forces people to commute long distances, adding to the bumper-to-bumper traffic along (Interstates) 580 and 680 and increasing dangerous air pollution," Brown said. "It's time for Pleasanton to balance its housing and its jobs and take full advantage of its underutilized land and proximity to BART," the Bay Area Rapid Transit System.

Brown sued the county of San Bernardino in 2007, saying the high desert region failed to address greenhouse gas emissions in its general plan. He also sued the city of Stockton, which in a settlement agreement reached this year said it will try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

On the federal level, Brown unsuccessfully asked President George W. Bush's administration to approve California's preemption waiver to enforce its own tailpipe emissions standards, enacted in 2002, which require stricter fuel efficiency requirements in new cars and trucks.

In denying the waiver late last year, then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said there ought to be a national approach to cutting tailpipe emissions, so it would not be well to allow individual states to set emissions standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under the Obama administration, has since granted California's request for a waiver to enforce its legislatively-approved emissions standards, aimed at achieving a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2016.

Brown has drawn criticism for his lawsuits against local and federal officials as he seeks to have them regulate climate-altering gases.

"He is a real activist attorney general," state Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, said in an earlier interview with Legal Newsline. "Everywhere you turn he is sticking his toe in the water here and there, and often times in places where he doesn't have good solid jurisdiction, just trying to grab headlines to ingratiate himself to the public in preparation for his run for governor."

Brown has not formally entered the gubernatorial race, but has formed an exploratory committee, allowing him to raise money for a potential bid.

Running for the GOP nomination to succeed Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is: former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
Schwarzenegger is unable to seek reelection because of term limits.

Brown was governor before the term limits law was enacted, thus allowing him to run again for the office he held three decades ago.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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