California journalists have reported over the last two election cycles on the effort by the Legislature’s “moderate caucus,” composed of conservative Democratic state legislators, to increase the caucus’ influence
During normal times—say, when the planet’s very future hasn’t depended on dramatically cutting combustion fueled by oil and methane gas—such facts would be just interesting data points for analyzing the Legislature’s political dynamics.
Now, though, the caucus members’ devotion to maintaining California’s oil dependence is having health-threatening consequences.
This devotion is especially playing out in the Assembly Transportation Committee. The committee is chaired by Jim Frazier, a Democrat from Discovery Bay, a leader of the moderate caucus.
California’s notorious air and climate pollution is driven by transportation. The smog and toxic particles that spark maladies ranging from low birthweight to asthma and heart disease are tightly linked to tailpipe emissions.
Reams of data, scientific papers and regulatory agency reports point to the need to transition California’s cars and trucks to zero-emission vehicles if the state is to ever have clean air or avoid the worst effects of climate change.
So one would expect to see growing devotion by the Democratic-led California Legislature to do more to help Californians access electric cars and cut pollution from delivery trucks.
Instead, the California Assembly is the graveyard for legislation designed to help advance zero-emission vehicles.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Frazier has a commanding, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners style of governing. He has demonstrated that style by stopping bills to advance clean transportation by refusing to schedule them for a hearing in his committee.
One of the most recent victims is Assembly Bill 40, which would require the regulatory agency responsible for tailpipe emissions regulations, the California Air Resources Board, to produce and deliver to the legislature a strategy for fully transitioning brand new cars sold in California to zero-emission by 2040.
That is, the bill by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting would have asked for a study to be done and sent to the Legislature. It did nothing more. Yet it’s a bill the oil and gas industry and the California Chamber of Commerce strongly oppose. The bill isn’t being scheduled for a hearing.
There are a few bills in the Senate that advance clean transportation that may pass in that house. But they are sure to face the buzzsaw in the Assembly once they reach Frazier’s committee.
How can a single legislator stop progress in advancing technology and cutting pollution?
He can do this by not acting alone. The Assembly Transportation Committee includes at least four other moderate caucus members who won’t buck the chairman, and whose votes, when counted with the handful of Republicans on the committee, can stop any bill.
In essence, the committee is stacked against zero-emission technology.
Frazier isn’t the only pro-oil Democrat sitting in a leadership role this year. Rudy Salas, Jr., a Democrat from Bakersfield, is chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. His first action was to try to get an expansive and expensive audit of the air resources board’s work on transportation.
It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Salas’s audit request, which failed to garner the votes needed, echoed the complaints commonly heard from the oil and gas industry about the air resources board’s transportation policies.
Who pays campaign costs has consequences. In the California Legislature, the consequences are that we all live with more health-threatening transportation pollution with no end in sight.
Kathryn Phillips is director of Sierra Club California, the legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the Sierra Club’s 13 local chapters, [email protected] She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.