Jordan Cunningham defends climate vote while taking heat from fellow Republicans

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham
Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham

San Luis Obispo Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham was one of eight Republican state lawmakers to help Gov. Jerry Brown pass a bill extending California’s landmark climate program to 2030 this week. But like some of the others, he’s now taking heat for crossing the political aisle.

The market-based system known as cap-and-trade is supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while generating billions of dollars in revenue as polluters pay to offset their emissions. It places caps on those emissions through allowances and fines companies if they exceed the cap. Businesses can buy and sell those allowances with other companies or through auctions held by the California Air Resources Board.

The system provides an incentive for companies large and small to reduce their carbon emissions.

“Personally, I’m very disappointed in (Cunningham’s) vote,” Randall Jordan, chairman of the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County, said Friday. “It’s an extension of a program that hurts small business with regulations, affects our gas prices and energy crisis all in the name of saving the environment.”

Randall Jordan — who said he doesn’t believe global warming is a problem — said the local party did not take any vote on the issue at its meeting Wednesday, but he said the tenor of the roughly 40 members in attendance was “disappointment.”

Cunningham said that his office received some phone calls and emails critical of his vote Monday, which extended a program that has been in place since 2012. And he’s seen harsh comments on social media. Though he received some supportive messages from conservatives, those were outweighed by the criticism, he said.

But Cunningham defended his vote Friday, telling The Tribune that the program will save taxpayers some $16 billion over the next 12 years, will benefit the agricultural industry, local fire departments, and may spell the end of the state’s proposed bullet train, a proposal opposed by most Republicans.

“It’s not a tax increase,” he said. “I think when they look at it, most people on the conservative side will see it was a real big win for the taxpayers and for people on the Central Coast that work in the energy sector.”

Calling the legislation “cap-and-trade reform,” Cunningham said it removes the California Air Resources Board’s “Soviet-style” power to impose fees, which he said was driving energy jobs out of the state.

“I’m here to try to do pragmatic things to solve problems and to limit the power of the state bureaucracy,” he said.

The new program extends a manufacturing tax credit and eliminates a $125-per-parcel fire suppression tax, which Cunningham says affects 25,000 homes in the 35th Assembly District, encompassing San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara Counties.

He also said language was added to invest more revenue from the allowance auctions into new low-emission equipment for agricultural businesses and local fire districts.

In order to secure Republican votes for the bill, Democrats approved a plan to place a constitutional amendment before voters next June that would give the minority party more sway over how the program’s money is spent.

About a quarter of that money, roughly $1.5 billion currently projected, has been designated for the controversial $64 billion high-speed rail project, which is already on financial life support, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“This cap-and-trade bill, I believe, will mean the demise of the bullet train,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham lastly took issue with “misinformation” being spread that the bill will raise gas taxes.

“The tax increase was already done on a super-majority vote (with the passage of Senate Bill 1 in April), and I fought as hard as anyone against that increase,” he said. “What I think what they’re trying to argue is they’re afraid it’s going to raise gas costs, but right now that’s based on total speculation.”

Despite those assertions, SLO County Republican Chair Jordan said he disagrees with Cunningham’s reasoning, and said he should have dug his heels in for the good of the “Constitutional conservative movement.”

“It’s not our job to get the lesser of two evils — it’s our job as conservatives and activists to get rid of the evil,” Randall Jordan said. “I feel that we’re not standing together as a conservative voice.”