OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – Nearly four decades after entering California politics, Jerry Brown has reinvented himself yet again, this time as a carbon-fighting attorney general.

The former governor, presidential candidate and Oakland mayor has emerged as a major player in the national debate on global warming, less than a year after taking office as the state’s top law enforcement official.

Brown has used threats, petitions, negotiated deals and a series of lawsuits to pressure automakers, county governments and the Bush administration to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

“It is the most important environmental issue facing the state and the world, and that’s why it’s something that has to be dealt with creatively and very aggressively,” Brown said. “I’m trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a lawful, practical way.”

But industry representatives and other critics say Brown is misusing his powers as attorney general to advance his climate-change agenda.

“We disagree with the way he’s using the courts to set national social and environmental policy,” said Dave Stirling, vice president of the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation.

The Democratic attorney general is “trying to force certain types of solutions on very difficult problems” that should be handled by Washington lawmakers, Stirling said.

Like Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 69-year-old Brown has made climate change a centerpiece of his administration, charging ahead with an issue that has broad support among the state’s eco-minded voters.

Some political observers speculate that Brown is racking up headlines in preparation for another gubernatorial bid (Brown can run again because current term limits were not in place when he was governor).

Others say he’s championed the environment throughout his career and is only using the attorney general’s office as a bully pulpit for a favorite issue.

“He was environmental before it was fashionable,” said Barbara O’Connor, who directs the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “I think he really does believe this is essential for the planet.”

Environmentalists are happy with what they’ve seen so far.

Brown “is taking the strongest action of any attorney general in the country,” said Kieran Suckling, policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “What Brown is doing is not only setting a precedent for other states. He’s also setting precedent for national policy on global warming at a time when there’s a national vacuum.”

Brown, the son of two-time Democratic Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, has been a fixture in California politics since he was elected secretary of state in 1970. He then served two terms as governor, from 1975 to 1983. When oil prices rose to record highs, he promoted energy efficiency and alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.

He also ran for president three times, studied Zen Buddhism in Japan, worked with Mother Teresa and hosted a talk show before spending eight years as mayor of Oakland, where he still lives and works.

Since becoming attorney general last year, he has pursued California’s quest to enact its own vehicle-emissions standards, which have been adopted by 16 other states but opposed by the auto industry.

The states won a major victory Wednesday when a federal judge in Fresno ruled that states can regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and light trucks, dismissing a lawsuit by automakers that claimed federal regulations pre-empt state rules.

But California and the other states still need a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose their own tailpipe standards. Brown sued the EPA in November to force the agency to act on California’s two-year-old request to regulate auto emissions.

Nationally, Brown has teamed up with the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups to petition the Bush administration to start regulating emissions from automobiles, airplanes and large oceangoing vessels. They plan to sue if the government doesn’t act on their requests.

Brown has also pursued “public nuisance” litigation seeking millions of dollars in compensation for global warming-induced floods and other natural disasters caused by emissions from automakers and coal plant manufacturers. But lawsuits against both industries were recently dismissed by judges, and critics say the courts are not the venue to tackle climate change.

“It truly is a national and international policy issue,” said Ted Boutrous, who represented the world’s six top automakers in the lawsuit.

Brown has also sought to force county governments and businesses in California to consider global warming in new construction projects and development plans. ConocoPhillips Co., the Port of Los Angeles and San Bernardino County recently agreed to reduce or offset carbon emissions under deals struck by his office.

Brown’s lawsuit against San Bernardino County, which was settled in August, “got local governments and developers to sit up and take notice that they won’t be able to do business as usual,” said Bill Allayaud, the Sierra Club’s California legislative director.

Brown plans to keep fighting climate change until Washington takes serious action.

“The challenge is so all-encompassing,” he said. “So the response must be equal.”



California Attorney General:

http://ag.ca.gov/

AP-ES-12-15-07 1250EST


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