State Issues

That '70s show: Jerry Brown vs. the Republicans

California's two-thirds vote for state budgets — it's one of just three states with a supermajority requirement — provides minority Republicans with one of their only opportunities to wield real power, and they often use it to pursue agendas that have little or nothing to do with the budget.

This year's version of the syndrome is a GOP demand that the Legislature rein in Attorney General Jerry Brown's crusade to force local authorities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as they make land use and transportation decisions.

Brown, a former two-term governor who was elected attorney general last year, has filed a lawsuit against San Bernardino County, alleging that it is obligated to consider global warming while updating its general land use and development plan, and interceded with letters in several other local planning processes, including a regional transportation plan in San Joaquin County.

Brown's actions have a common point — that with the passage of last year's anti-global warming law, Assembly Bill 32, local authorities have an implicit responsibility to include greenhouse gases in the environmental impact assessments of their decisions, even though AB 32 doesn't contain a word to that effect.

The crusade had angered local officials as an infringement on their authority and developers who see it as opening a new legal pathway for environmental groups and other opponents to attack them. Republican lawmakers have taken up their cause and are demanding that any final deal on the state budget include some restrictions on Brown who, they say, is constructing law where none exists.

One brief passage of the state budget bill grants Brown $1 million "to pursue climate litigation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions" but adds, "These funds shall not be used to support litigation against local government entities."

Developers and Republicans say, however, that it's not enough to rein in Brown because he can merely use other funds to pursue his cause.

"It's the same old characters who are attacking me," Brown said in an interview during Friday's blowup on the budget, adding, "I think it's an outrage."

The dust-up over Brown's crusade is the public manifestation of a larger debate in land use and development circles over what, if any, legal obligation local officials have to join the global warming war in their decisions.

State law doesn't contain any explicit mandate to do so; if it did, the state theoretically would have to pay local governments for their extra costs. Brown, however, contends that there is an implicit mandate.

The Association of Environmental Professionals — the people who draft environmental impact statements for developers and government agencies — just issued a "white paper" that suggests seven potential responses, ranging from no response to a full analysis and mitigation plan, the latter being more or less what Brown is demanding.

The California Building Industry Association, the developer umbrella group, is urging governments to take no action, contending that there's nothing in state law to require it. AB 32 commands the California Air Resources Board to draw up a plan to monitor greenhouse gases and eventually reduce California emissions to 1990 levels.

Environmental groups, of course, take the more activist approach favored by Brown, demanding that local development and transportation plans contain full greenhouse gas analysis and mitigation — a position that has not, however, found favor in the courts in the few instances in which it has been tested.

As governor, Brown was often on the freewheeling edge, and he appears to have returned to that mode as attorney general. And that has placed him at the center of the budget impasse.

Contact Dan Walters Back columns are available at