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The Sacramento Bee

Climate law adds jobs to state payroll


By Rick Daysog
rdaysog@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Jul. 26, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 26, 2010 - 7:28 am

The state's landmark global warming law has yet to create the promised bonanza of green jobs, but it has boosted payrolls in another sector of the economy: state government.

At a time of budget cuts and state worker furloughs, the state agency primarily responsible for regulating global warming has bulked up its staff as it prepares to enforce AB 32, the climate change law signed in 2006 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Since 2007, the California Air Resources Board has added more than 150 employees, an increase of 12.5 percent. The additions include dozens of scientists, engineers, technicians and other air pollution experts.

Other state agencies, such as the California Energy Commission and the Department of Resources Recycling Recovery, have added 29 positions as part of the climate change initiative.

Founded in 1967, the 11-member California Air Resources Board enforces the state's air pollution laws. It is the lead agency in implementing AB 32, which aims to reduce California's carbon emissions 15 percent by 2020.

AB 32 gives the agency the power to "regulate all sorts of facets that will affect the economy," said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C., consumer advocacy group. "That's a powerful agency," he said.

Under AB 32, the Air Resources Board will regulate the amount of carbon that oil refiners, utilities and other energy companies emit. Its rules will have a big say in the fuel motorists put in their vehicles and how much people pay to light, heat and cool their homes.

The agency sets standards for the carbon content of gasoline and plans to establish a cap-and-trade market in which refiners and utilities buy and sell a limited number of allowances to emit carbon.

While he believes the state should be commended for taking a leadership role in climate change policy, Slocum said the board's broad authority gives it "unequaled" regulatory power.

"The nature of climate change is so broad-based that this would concentrate a lot of authority in the hands of this agency," Slocum said.

The staff responsible for carrying out the board's hefty mandate includes dozens of air pollution specialists, engineers and supervisors with diverse backgrounds.

In its 2007-08 fiscal year, the agency hired 125 people. It brought on another 32 the following year and three more in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Agency officials say they don't expect to add new staff this fiscal year, but that could change in future years as it moves from writing regulations to enforcing them.

AB 32's proponents say the increased staffing is necessary so the agency can meet its aggressive timelines, which include establishing the cap-and-trade program by 2012. By 2015, the agency is slated to complete a plan to cut energy use by 20 percent in all state-owned buildings.

Bill Magavern, director for the Sierra Club in California, said the staffing costs won't be a burden to taxpayers since they will be paid for by fees assessed on petroleum refiners, utilities and other energy producers. Members of the oil and power industries are mandated by AB 32 to pay fees of up to $65 million a year to cover the state's costs.

"We definitely would like to see more people in enforcement for global warming and the air quality rules," Magavern said.

Critics say the program's costs hurt the industries the agency regulates and consumers will wind up paying through higher prices.

Jon Coupal, president of the taxpayer revolt group the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, questions why the state is adding employees to enforce a law his group says has hurt the state's economy.

Coupal is co-chairman of the California Jobs Initiative, which is spearheading Proposition 23, a November ballot measure to roll back AB 32 until the statewide unemployment rate, now at 12.3 percent, falls to 5.5 percent for four successive quarters.

"This is a significant increase in employment and one that cannot be justified in this budget climate and abysmal state of California's economy," Coupal said.

For the Air Resources Board, passage of Proposition 23 could be a financial setback, according to a recent report by the state Legislative Analyst's Office.

Until now, the department has paid for its AB 32 efforts by borrowing money from other state entities. The debt, which totals more than $84 million for the past three years, is supposed to be paid back by fees assessed on big refiners and utilities.

Suspending the law would cut off the agency's funding source to repay the debt, according to the LAO. "These potential one-time state costs could amount to tens of millions of dollars," the LAO concluded.

CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD

Founded: 1967

Chairwoman: Mary Nichols

Employees: 1,265

Annual expenditures: $601.9 million (estimate for 2010-11 fiscal year)

Climate change budget: $33 million