California Democrats scuttle wildfire utility fee plan, turn to Newsom in last-ditch effort

California
In this long exposure photograph, flames set ablaze both sides of a segment of Lake Berryessa during the Hennessey fire in the Spanish Flat area of Napa on Aug. 18, 2020. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

In this long exposure photograph, flames set ablaze both sides of a segment of Lake Berryessa during the Hennessey fire in the Spanish Flat area of Napa on Aug. 18, 2020. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Facing heavy opposition, California lawmakers have scrapped a last-minute bill to extend fees on utility customers and plan to replace it with a more modest call for $500 million in emergency fire response and mitigation efforts, a new proposal that would require Gov. Gavin Newsom to waive a state law that prevents legislators from amending bills in the final hours before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

The decision to abandon Assembly Bill 1659 comes just five days after lawmakers introduced the bill. The legislation’s reliance on a 10-year extension of fees on utility bills — at a cost of more than $3 billion to customers — to pay for wildfire mitigation and climate projects drew sharp criticism from ratepayer advocates and utilities.

The new plan, pushed by Democrats in the state Senate, would instead tap into proceeds from California’s cap-and-trade program — which requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gas emissions — as well as state general fund revenues and a 2018 bond measure. The money would be spent on a variety of efforts aimed at addressing wildfires and climate change, including cooling centers, back-up solar power, emergency shelters, warning and detection systems, hardening projects, forest health and workforce training.

“We’ve had 1.7 million acres that have already burned this year and we haven’t even gotten to the peak of wildfire season,” said state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), who is among the Democrats pushing the proposal. “Either we’re going to continue spending money to fight the fires and help communities rebuild and address the devastation after the fact, or we can try to act now to be more proactive.”

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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