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SACRAMENTO � State Republicans crowed Tuesday afternoon that they had finally hamstrung Attorney General Jerry Brown with a budget trailer bill limiting global warming lawsuits. By Tuesday evening, some Democrats were proclaiming that they had “hoodwinked” GOP lawmakers into passing legislation that actually strengthens global warming claims under the California Environmental Quality Act. On Wednesday, interest groups and attorneys were trying to unravel the spin both political parties were generating about Senate Bill 97, a three-page CEQA amendment that wasn’t even in print when legislators adopted it Tuesday. “At its best, it’s the usual legislative hodgepodge,” said Norman Dupont, of counsel to Richards, Watson & Gershon in Los Angeles. “My initial read is this is � a Band-Aid that was thrown to Republicans who were complaining about ‘that activist attorney general,’ Jerry Brown.” SB 97 played a key role in getting Senate Republicans to end their 52-day blockade of the 2007-08 budget. Legislative leaders said the bill would temporarily ban global warming lawsuits challenging transportation and flood control projects funded by $25 billion in voter-approved bonds. But the bill language itself isn’t so clear. It says, in part, that developers can’t be sued for not mitigating the impact of “emissions otherwise required to be reduced pursuant to regulations adopted by the state Air Resources Board.” The Legislature and governor have given the board broad authority to devise new rules that will slash California’s greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2025. But the board hasn’t adopted any regulations concerning levee construction or road building � or anything else yet. Everyone involved seems to agree that SB 97 only exempts project emissions regulated by the ARB. Environmental groups, Democrats and the attorney general say that since the ARB hasn’t adopted any rules yet, SB 97 offers no legal shield for any project that generates greenhouse gases. “I think they’re still fair game,” said Bill Allayaud, state legislative director for the Sierra Club California. “The board has not adopted those regulations yet.” “The GOP was snookered,” Steve Maviglio, chief deputy to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, wrote on his blog. Kassie Siegel, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, agreed: “That wouldn’t affect anything as far as we can tell. It wouldn’t have an on-the-ground impact.” The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society have filed a joint lawsuit against San Bernardino County that claims planners did not study or mitigate the impacts of massive planned residential growth on global warming. The attorney general settled a similar lawsuit against the county on Tuesday after supervisors there agreed to measure, and eventually reduce, greenhouse gas emissions. Brown called SB 97 a “fig leaf” used by Republicans to explain why one GOP senator finally agreed to provide the additional vote needed to pass the budget. “I don’t think it will curb what I’m doing,” Brown said Wednesday. “But it made one Republican feel better, so that was good. It was mostly some kind of psychology program they needed to get that vote.” Russell Lowery, chief of staff for SB 97′s author, Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said Brown and others were misinterpreting the bill. The “emissions otherwise required to be reduced” phrase merely refers to gases that the ARB is authorized to regulate � whether they’ve done so yet or not, Lowery said. “That will be reflected in the governor’s signing letter,” he said. In fact, SB 97 will provide legal protection to a broad range of projects, from roads to bridges to levees, said Lowery, who called remarks by Democrats and Brown political posturing necessitated by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata’s earlier insistence that his party wouldn’t tolerate any changes to CEQA. “We had the best real estate attorneys in the state, the folks who are going to be building these projects, go over this language,” he said. “And then we had three other lawyers who weren’t involved with the bill come in and look at it again.” Richards Watson’s Dupont said that a potentially more significant impact of SB 97 is its introduction of the climate change issue directly into CEQA language. In fact, the bill requires the state Office of Planning and Research to set up guidelines for mitigating global warming emissions under CEQA by 2009. “Up until SB 97, there was no specific provision in the current CEQA law that said ‘address greenhouse gases.’ It was ‘address environmental impacts,’” Dupont said. “Someone slipped that language into that bill. … It clearly states that it’s the Legislature’s understanding that greenhouse gases are an environmental impact.”

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