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Calif. Lawmakers Extend Cap-And-Trade Program Through 2030


There may be gridlock in Washington, D.C., but Republicans and Democrats in California seem to be working together, at least on one issue. The state legislature voted to extend the state's cap-and-trade program, which sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions while issuing permits for emission of pollutants, which companies can sell. But despite the bipartisan effort, there were also critics on both sides of the aisle for the deal, as our co-host David Greene noted when he spoke with California's Democratic governor, Jerry Brown.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: You've been getting a lot of praise for this deal, including from former Republican governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. But there are critics who say you gave away too much to industry to get this deal. Is that fair criticism?

JERRY BROWN: No, not at all.

GREENE: Say - they say you took some power away from local regulators. There's a free allowance in there for some industry to be able to go slowly.

BROWN: Yeah. I would just say they could...

GREENE: I mean, are those things at least legitimate points that some of your critics are making?

BROWN: No. No. They're not even legitimate.

GREENE: Why not?

BROWN: They're completely and abysmally superficial. We have a well-running elegant mechanism to allocate carbon reduction through a pricing system. It works as a market. Now, the specific criticisms from the left - oh, we took away some local air authority to regulate CO2. CO2 does not cause local damage. It is a global pollutant. And that could be handled by one authority, the state Air Resources Board, using the mechanism of cap-and-trade.

In terms of free allowances, those are used to dampen down any price spike that might be occasioned by excessive, unusual activity in the carbon market. On the right side, The Wall Street Journal, they were mostly concerned about the effect on the election. Instead of talking about the common good or the science, they kind of put themselves in the shoe of one of these political consultants that worked for Republicans and said that because some Republicans voted for it, it'll be harder to use the issue against Democrats.

Well, that's unworthy of the existential nature of climate change. This is a balanced middle path embraced by Republicans and Democrats. So I would say any fair-minded review of our cap-and-trade system, of the vote, what it entails, I would say would - will be very positive.

GREENE: Is there a broader lesson that you take from this, in terms of political compromise, right now?

BROWN: Yeah. We listened to a variety of opinions from a variety of points of view. And some of the folk on the left said, oh, you can't talk to oil companies. Are you talking to the Chamber of Commerce? Are you talking to the Farm Bureau? That's just horrible.

And then on the other side, The Wall Street Journal and some of the Republican activists said, you're a Republican. You can't vote for something that a Democrat would support. Well, both of those, in my view, are forms of political terrorism that are conspiring to undermine the American system of governance.

GREENE: And do you hold people in your own party account - to account for that, as well? I mean, you hold people in your own party to account for that problem?

BROWN: Oh, we had some liberal character that had to vote no because he was worried about, I don't know, not having an overlapping regulation on CO2 at both the state and the local level. And the people who do the regulation didn't agree with him. It was an activist group that is so embedded in saying no and fighting for their cause that they don't see victory.

GREENE: Governor, it feels like your party is at a critical moment after this election, where there are some who say, we need to stick to liberal values, I mean, whip up support in a way the Tea Party did on the other side. And there are others who say the only way we're going to get things done is to sit down and build consensus with the Republican Party. I mean, what's your advice to the party right now?

BROWN: I would say the path of wise, prudent debate and agreement is the only path forward. Going to one extreme or the other, whether it's the Republicans and their Tea Party or the Democrats going left, that's not viable. I'm studying the history of the Social Democratic Party in Germany both before World War I and after. And that was a...

GREENE: This is, like, your bedtime reading right now?

BROWN: Well, I read considerably. I read not just at bedtime, but I read a considerable - a certain number of hours during the day and on the weekend. And no, it's not - I don't have little story books that I have by my bed stand, if that's what you're asking me.

GREENE: (Laughter).

BROWN: You know, the work of governor requires a wide knowledge of many, many things. But I would say history tells us that we need to find consensus. We need to swallow our own pet thoughts and build coalitions. That's the nature of parliamentary democracy, American democracy. And we're getting away from that. And the end product is always fanaticism, breakdown and a much darker future.

GREENE: You know, we started with a specific issue. Let me finish with a specific issue and that's health care. I mean, there are some in your party right now who are pushing as hard as they can for single-payer system. They say that is truly the future.

There are others who are saying, you know what, maybe this is the time to open the door to Republicans in Washington to hammer out some new version of the Affordable Care Act, something new, messy as it might be. What is your advice to the party on health care?

BROWN: Well, when I ran for president in 1992, I supported a single-payer system. I would say that the concept of a unified health care system, that's well worth thinking about and debating and inquiring into. But the idea that you could have one pathway doesn't represent the complexity we face - not only the complexity of delivering health care but the complexity of so many different political ideas. So I'd say, let's work together and find something that we can all live with.

GREENE: Do you see that moment coming?

BROWN: I do see that moment coming because the beauty of Trump and the beauty of the Republican failure on health care is that extreme partisanship in Washington - like, throw out the health care and take away health care from 20 million people - it's not going to work. And so I think space is being opened for a more generous, benign path forward.

GREENE: Governor Brown, always good talking to you. Thanks so much.

BROWN: OK, thank you.


MARTIN: California Governor Jerry Brown talking with our co-host David Greene.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "RECEIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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