For Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, global warming conjured images of stricken polar bears floating away on melting ice sheets, a problem with little relevance to a politician from California’s bone-dry Inland Empire.
But while attending the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris last year, he heard a new conversation about helping the world’s poor, polluted communities — places that sounded a lot like his own district.
“I don’t consider myself a climate change activist,” the Democrat said. “I consider myself an advocate for my community.”
But there was a hitch when he returned to Sacramento to push a new proposal. The territory had already been staked out by Sen. Fran Pavley, a Los Angeles County Democrat from the kind of wealthy, white, coastal area that has dominated environmental conversations in the state. While Garcia was still in his first term, Pavley was finishing her last and she was determined to pass her own measure to set a more ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Garcia and Pavley could have gone their separate ways. Instead, they formed an unlikely alliance that changed the course of California’s renowned policies on climate change and cemented them for years to come.
The new legislation would preserve the state’s international reputation for fighting global warming while grounding it in local concerns over jobs and health, broadening the agenda’s political support and providing a potential road map for future environmental battles.
“That’s exactly the discussion we needed to have,” Pavley said. “How can we make the benefits of reducing carbon pollution relevant to everyone?”
It was an approach spearheaded by a scrappy group of staff and advocates who waged an insurgent campaign that faced opposition from oil companies, hesitance from Democratic leaders and volatile divisions among environmentalists. Just one year after heavy industry opposition defeated or watered down high-profile proposals, Gov. Jerry Brown is poised to sign measures to spur more investments in clean technologies and cut pollution from refineries and other facilities.
In the end, the legislative odd couple of Garcia and Pavley became what Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) called “the partnership of the future. We’re bridging that gap within the environmental community.”