Monday, April 3, 2017

Slippery Slopes and the War on California

If you missed yesterdayʻs editorial in the Los Angeles Times, you will learn that the War on California also contains a corresponding theme: Californiaʻs War on Trump.  The editorial is striking not simply because it vigorously takes the newly elected President to task in a devastating personal attack, but also because it is a call to arms. While the Times stops short of calling on citizens to engage in mass mobilization and protest, perhaps only because we are still in the first 100 days of his regime. For the tens of millions of Californians assaulted by Trumpians, the Times brings the welcome relief of a counter-attack on this ʻdishonest presidentʻ.

The weakness with the Timesʻ editorial, however, is its emphasis on a single individual in the White House. The paperʻs essay acknowledges that had Cruz or Rubio prevailed over Trump, we might be facing largely similar problems with regard to the treatment of women, immigrants, workers, and the poor. The difference between Trump and other potential leaders, according to the Times, is one of degree. Donald Trump, the argument goes, is dangerously crazy, whereas his colleagues are merely crazy. The point may be well taken with respect to the next war and the potential for nuclear disasters; but what about other global conflicts, including fossil-fueled crises threatening the planetʻs survival?
Are the actions of those who might replace Trump an acceptable alternative?

In the world of environmental protection, news stories often offer clear divisions: those working to protect and save fragile habitat and vanishing critters and those bent on their destruction. Such narratives have an immediate attractiveness, especially in the era of Trump & Co. One problem with such descriptions, however, appears in the arena of over-lapping circles - areas where the two approaches overlap. This grey colored section between the black and white of opposed interests is sometimes defined as the ʻwin-winʻ territory, a place where compromises can be reached and policies advanced benefiting otherwise opposed interests. It is also a terrain known for slippery slopes; a place where the public awaken one day, saying "How in the world did we arrive at this disastrous spot!"

At a moment in history when the fate of the planet and human civilization seems precariously balanced on the edge of global cataclysms, the political terrain has grown exceedingly more slippery. At first glance the choice between Californiaʻs climate policies or those of an unstable fellow in the White House seem obvious. There are, however, grey areas between the two that are ripe for exploiting what will surely be presented as ʻwin-win solutionsʻ - but which others will just as surely awaken one day, saying ʻHow did we find ourselves hurdling toward the abyss?ʻ To appreciate the potential dangers, we might begin with some recent political history. And what better place to start than Californiaʻs own actor/leader and the Golden Stateʻs ʻSolutionʻ to global warming.
"Today, California will be a leader in the fight against global warming... I say the debate is over. We know the science, we see the threat and we know the time for action is now." The statement, issued by one of Californiaʻs governors, suggested a bold plan to address a steadily advancing crisis - climate change.

Serving as a primary leader for the stateʻs Republicans, this popular governor immediately placed himself at odds with President George Bush, who steadfastly avoided the issue, including his refusal to join 150-plus nations from around the globe in the most recent effort to devise an international accord -- the Kyoto Protocols. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was delivering his plan for addressing global warming to open a United Nations World Environment Day Conference in San Francisco.

In making his announcement, Schwarzenegger issued an executive order directing the secretary of California's Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the state's emissions of greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2010; 1990 levels by 2020; and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, as the outline of a long-term program. Despite a mountain of scientific studies documenting a disrupted climate, the main directive from President Bush sought to undermine Californiaʻs recently enacted law to lessen engine emissions. The question of whether such a program would require too little escaped notice because it would be progress, seemingly, to launch any plan. However, in a setting where words and details mattered, the Governorʻs plan was about to hit a speed bump.
Within weeks of Governor Schwarzenegger’s announcement launching a project to address global warming, an attempt was made to introduce a legislative proposal mirroring the broad strokes of the Governorʻs executive order. A member of the Assembly came to the Senate with a reputed agreement that the Governor would sign global warming legislation into law. The catch, typical to agreements reached late in the session, necessitated the Legislature to agree to a kind of blank check, largely circumventing reviews by policy committees...and the public. Last minute agreements of this sort often employed a technique known as ʻgut and amend,ʻ taking legislation introduced earlier in the legislative session on one topic, later inserting entirely new language.

Few involved, if anyone, had the opportunity to analyze and reflect on the consequences of a proposed ‘gut’ or change. In certain instances, such as after a natural disaster, gut and amend served a valuable purpose: to act with the utmost urgency in the event of a crisis. Unfortunately, gut and amends too often were invented crises employed by powerful lobbyists as a device for circumventing more intensive public scrutiny. Whereas Congress and even many states passed measures without the benefit of even allowing sufficient time for representatives to read measures requiring their vote, Californiaʻs Legislature exercised a very strong tradition based on an extensive review by professional staff as well as allowing for public review and comment.

Behind the Governorʻs directive to urgently address global warming lurked a more devilish question: who was responsible for setting the earth on fire in the first place? On this point, the Governor seemed to suggest that we all shared a responsibility for fixing the problem. The tension for many veterans of the Legislature involved their belief that a key ingredient in crafting ʻgoodʻ law required everyone -- especially the general public -- time to digest what a legal proposal meant. Leaving vital details solely in the hands any governor was an approach many professional staff referred to by a simple and pejorative shorthand: faith-based governing.

Nearing the close of the 2005 legislative session, I was asked to join a meeting of the chair of my committee along with two other legislators to discuss a possible gut-and-amend. In the absence of any written draft, the proposal was presented as a broadly conceptual one: allowing a bill broadly encapsulating Governor Schwarzeneggerʻs executive order on global warming to advance through the Senateʻs Environmental Quality Committee. The assembly member was emphatic in her presentation; here was a golden and urgent opportunity for the Legislature to act, we should not pass up this matter of crucial importance to the public. Almost as an afterthought, the anxious legislator mentioned a minor caveat: since the specific language was still being finalized by the Governorʻs people, the Committee would only be able to vote on the broad generalities of the bill. 

In the closed-door meeting with the three legislators, the chair then turned to me, asking for my perspective on the proposed hearing for what was the Governorʻs bill on climate change....

please return on Wednesday to read the next installment.......and thank you!

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