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View from the top of Twin Peaks, San Francisco, California. (Image: Jason Jenkins via Flickr)

California governor’s greenhouse-gas cuts scrutinized

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The top lawyer for the California Legislature says Gov. Jerry Brown exceeded his authority when he issued an executive order imposing what he called the most aggressive carbon-emission reductions in North America, aligning California with the European Union’s aggressive climate change standards.

The opinion by Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine does not curtail Brown’s authority to continue implementing the greenhouse gas reduction plan, but it suggests a lawsuit challenging them could be successful.

The Democratic governor issued the executive order last year setting a new target for cutting carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

But in a letter dated Tuesday, Boyer-Vine said only the Legislature can require impose carbon-reduction mandates stricter than those adopted in 2006 and signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Furthermore, she wrote, lawmakers couldn’t grant Brown the authority to impose his own emission target even if they wanted to.

Boyer-Vine’s letter in response to questions from Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, was provided Thursday to The Associated Press.

“We think the determination of a standard for the statewide (greenhouse gas) emissions limit is a fundamental policy decision that only the Legislature can make,” the letter said.

Before Brown’s order, California was on track to meet the goal established in 2006 of cutting carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, partly by forcing companies to pay for their pollution. Brown’s executive order seeks to speed the timeline, aligning California’s goal with that of the 28-nation European Union.

Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, the Brown administration agency that runs the program, disputed the legal analysis.

“While the 2020 limit is an important first step in measuring progress, climate change will not end in 2020,” Young said.

Overturning the executive order would be a blow to Brown’s effort to establish a legacy and a global identity as a crusader against climate change. Brown was scheduled to attend a signing ceremony for the Paris climate change agreement Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York. He highlighted the executive order in a press release announcing his trip.

While Democrats maintain overwhelming control of the Legislature, Brown would face difficulty winning legislative approval for his emissions targets. A group of moderate Democrats in the Assembly has sided with business interests against efforts by Brown and conservation groups to create stronger environmental protections.

“The Legislature should not advance the cap-and-trade program under this dark legal cloud,” said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber.

Related: UN agency proposes greenhouse gas emissions rules for planes

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