Overreaching on global warming

Brown’s threat goes too far, could have unintended consequences

California Attorney General Jerry Brown may be giving AB 32, the state’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, a bad name in this neck of the woods.

Since the bill was passed in 2006, Brown has become California’s self-styled carbon cop, taking upon himself and his office the job of promoting the act by pressuring local agencies to include carbon emissions as part of the environmental-review process.

Most notably, he’s intervened in county general-plan processes and harbor and oil-refinery expansions, with generally positive results. San Bernardino County, to cite one example, is developing a plan for mitigating the greenhouse-gas emissions that future growth is expected to generate.

That’s as it should be. The impacts of a county’s steroidal development or a major harbor’s spread are matters of significant regional and even statewide concern. But the attorney general’s latest move, threatening Siskiyou County with a lawsuit over Nestlé Waters’ plan to build a single water-bottling plant in McCloud, is overreaching.

In a 10-page letter, Brown informed the county it must evaluate how the plastic bottles, the trucks used to transport them and the electricity powering the plant will contribute to global warming. Presumably, the county and Nestlé must also describe how these emissions will be mitigated.

Nestlé has already faced significant local opposition to the plant, been required to write a second environmental-impact report, and scaled back its projected operations by 60 percent. As Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa told the Redding Record Searchlight, Brown’s threat could be “the straw that breaks the back of the project"—with unintended consequences. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Nestlé says there’s plenty of water in Colorado or someplace else,” La Malfa said. Then, of course, the bottles would have to be shipped to California, using more fuel and emitting more greenhouse gases.

Unless and until the state has a clear set of guidelines for how counties and businesses can address global warming, the attorney general should refrain from intervening in them on a case-by-case basis. After all, every manufacturer ships its goods and uses electricity for power.

In the meantime, bottled-water sales are down as consumers have become aware of their global-warming impacts. Sometimes the marketplace is more effective than the courts at solving problems.