Brown Signs $900M Environmental Package

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) — California Gov. Jerry Brown approved a package of climate-change and clean-air bills during a signing ceremony in Fresno Wednesday, including the allocation of $900 million from the state's struggling cap-and-trade program.
     The cap-and-trade revenue, generated from a contentious carbon tax on California businesses, will be spent on clean-car rebates, urban transportation and other greenhouse gas reduction plans in California's most polluted and disadvantaged communities.
     Brown touted the four bills as environmental justice for California's communities during a press conference atop the parking garage of a new sustainable development project in Fresno.
     "This is a bill that aims to fix up the air, make things better and more livable for everybody," Brown said.
     Wednesday's ceremony comes on the heels of Brown signing two strict climate-change measures last week in Los Angeles. The laws give California the toughest clean-air laws in the nation and aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
     Brown stressed that the climate bills will not only clean up California's notorious smog, but create new jobs as well.
     "This is how you actually move people into the middle class," Brown said. "The way to drive wages up is to invest in the very kind of programs that we're singing into law today. This is really important for jobs."
     The signings signal major victories for Brown and the state's majority Democratic Party over intense lobbying from the oil industry. After having his ambitious climate-change proposals stymied in 2015, Brown and the Legislature largely succeeded in 2016.
     Poor results at recent state cap-and-trade auctions contributed to the conservative $900 million included in Assembly Bill 1613. Brown and the Democrats hoped to have billions of cap-and-trade dollars to spend, but the auction in August fell 98 percent short of expectations.
     California businesses have shied away from buying carbon tax permits at recent auctions because of the uncertainty surrounding the state's cap-and-trade program, which sunsets in 2020.
     Major transportation projects like the ambitious high-speed rail project — and the state's reserves — depend on cap-and-trade funding. If cap-and-trade revenues continue to dwindle or possibly disappear, the beleaguered rail project could be put on hold.
     Lawmakers have yet to approve an extension of the program, and the issue figures to be the next major California political battle in 2017. Brown has suggested he may even help fund a ballot measure in 2018 if the Legislature doesn't soon send him a proposal.