Jerry Brown, who has been confounding state Republicans for more than 30 years, is at it again.
The Democratic attorney general — governor in the 1970s and 1980s, leader of the state Democratic Party, presidential candidate, then Oakland's mayor — is in the middle of a dispute that has been blamed for blocking passage of the state budget more than six weeks after it is due.
Brown is using his office to pressure local governments to account for the potential increase in greenhouse gas emissions when they consider new development. He sued San Bernardino County to block its adoption of a 25-year master plan meant to guide growth in that booming region.
Brown's campaign has put state business leaders on edge, and their complaints found a receptive audience among Republicans in the state Senate. As part of the price for their votes on the state budget, those lawmakers are demanding a provision that would stop anyone from filing such lawsuits until 2012.
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Sen. Dick Ackerman of Irvine, the Senate Republican leader, said Brown's attempt to use global warming to slow development harkens back to his time as governor, when he proclaimed an "era of limits" and "basically stopped all freeway construction and development" for his eight years as chief executive.
Ackerman fears that Brown also will try to use global warming to restrict the use of public works bonds voters approved last fall.
Brown told me that all he is doing is enforcing the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires local agencies to consider the potential environmental impacts of new development and take reasonable actions to reduce those effects.
Assembly Bill 32, the state's historic bill to fight global warming, requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 25 percent by 2020. But it will be years before that law takes full effect.
In the meantime, Brown said, state and local officials should be doing everything they can to avoid making the problem worse, and he believes they were required to do so even before the passage of the new law.
Brown said he believes his office will reach a settlement with San Bernardino County soon. He also has sent letters challenging housing developments in San Jose and in Yuba County. He is monitoring transportation plans in Sacramento, Fresno, San Diego and Kern counties. And he is reviewing plans by Chevron and Conoco-Phillips to expand oil refineries in Richmond.
Brown championed growth in Oakland as its mayor, and says his goal is not to stop development. He just expects local governments to identify greenhouse gas emissions that can be attributed to the actions they are about to take, then consider ways to reduce those emissions. His model is Marin County, which voluntarily adopted a greenhouse gas reduction plan in October.
The dispute has also put Gov. Schwarzenegger in a political bind. He is an advocate of AB 32. He says Brown has probably gone too far, too fast, in pressing their mutual cause, but he does not believe his fellow Republicans should use the issue to further delay an already tardy budget.
Behind the scenes, Schwarzen-egger's staff has been trying to broker a compromise that would limit lawsuits over land-use planning until the state establishes standards for local governments to use to measure potential greenhouse gases from development. A provision restricting the use of AB 32 in such lawsuits might satisfy Senate Republicans, even though Brown says he believes the state's other environmental laws give him wide leeway to intervene.
A perpetual minority, Republicans in the Legislature have leverage only when a bill requires a two-thirds majority to pass, as is the case with the budget. That's the only time their votes matter, and that's the only time anyone listens to them. At the moment, on this issue, they're making it clear that they want to be heard.
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