Smokestacks emitting greenhouse gases. Photo courtesy Environmental Protection Agency

By Rocky Chavez

Given the layout of politics over the past year, it is more important than ever that Republicans in the state Legislature listen to the constituents they represent. Based on a recent study, four out of five Californians not only consider the environment one of their primary concerns, but also view it as a real threat to the state.

I’ve stated before that as elected officials it is our job to represent those who elect us, and the California Cap and Trade Program isn’t an exception. Our duty to our constituents transcends party lines. Republicans have to be willing to argue on behalf of their districts, even if that representation falls under territory that has been beholden to the Democrats.

Under the current Cap and Trade program, a largely market-based approach to reducing pollution, the Legislative Analyst’s Office projects a gas tax increase of up to 70 cents per gallon at the end of the day. Under the current proposed state Senate plan, the floor and ceiling set a guaranteed growth of 60 cents. This comes after the recently passed transportation and gas tax that created the largest gas tax increase in state history. It mentions the collection of millions of dollars into an arbitrary fund without addressing the environmental burden. We cannot allow Cap and Trade to serve as a honeypot, collecting revenue for pet projects.

Rocky Chavez

The law that launched Cap and Trade was signed in 2006 by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now the program’s future is up for debate because there are legal questions over whether Cap and Trade can continue operating after 2020. We cannot sit around and refuse to engage in this conversation. By doing so, the working middle class suffers.

My Republican colleagues and I have formed a working group to engage in this conversation. We are in the process of developing a plan of core principles that will allow us to work with Democrats to structure a Cap and Trade program centered around limiting the price of emission permits and using the program’s revenue for tax credits or rebates.

We are confident we can align with industry groups such as oil companies and food processors that have already backed Cap and Trade as a more cost-effective alternative to stricter rules for cutting emissions. A free-market based Cap and Trade program is more beneficial than the extreme and costly command-and-control alternative that many are pushing forth as the current solution.

The real solution needs to serves BOTH needs: relieving the impending financial burden on the middle and lower class while working toward a better environmental solution.

We can still mold an effective and efficient Cap and Trade program while protecting California families and ensuring sensible climate goals, starting with stopping unneeded and damaging regulations in place. If our goal is to reduce greenhouse gases, then the auction revenue must go to programs that actually reduce greenhouse gases. Auction revenues should go back to Californians as rebates and tax credits, not to pet projects for politicians.

Look at what’s going on around us in the economy. Consider the threat posted by sea-level rise. These are issues that we need to be concerned about. We want to be part of the solution.

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez represents the 76th District, which stretches from Encinitas along the coast to the Orange County border.

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