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Claims against CCA bill unfounded

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I am proud to author Senate Bill 790 to update the state’s decade-old Community Choice Aggregation law. CCA allows communities to pool, or aggregate, the electricity needs of their residents, businesses and other institutions in order to procure and generate oftentimes greener electricity on their behalf.

First, let’s dispense with the falsehoods and innuendo that are the foundation of Katy Grimes’ Sept. 12 op-ed that claimed the “gut and amend” bill helps fill union coffers.

The bill was never a “gut and amend.” It has always had the same topic, CCA. There is nothing about project labor agreements, power plant permits or the California Environmental Quality Act in the bill. The language in question is six lines out of 28 pages; it was not “totally amended” when added. It has been in the bill since May, not Aug. 30, as Grimes also tries to mislead readers. It has been analyzed in public 11 times and at least that many times privately by Republican analysts. Not one has ever found the bill to do what she claims.

So what does the language do? The bill contains a code of conduct that prohibits utilities from spending ratepayer (as opposed to shareholder) dollars to oppose CCA. But free speech rights require that unions be free to support or oppose CCA if they choose — using money from union dues. So the bill references federal statutes that deal with dues and labor-management agreements. But it does not — and cannot — modify federal law. Payments are permitted or prohibited under federal law, which SB 790 doesn’t change. An anti-union construction industry organization opposed to project labor agreements is the source of Ms. Grimes’ claims. They create a dust storm whenever this federal statute is even mentioned, for whatever purpose. But this fanciful theory, a fantasy about the implementation of my bill, has no basis in fact or law.

Instead, let’s focus on what SB 790 is really about. In 2002, the California Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 117, which established a local government’s right to implement CCA. Bay Area governments have already taken steps to establish their own CCAs, including Clean Power SF in San Francisco and Marin Clean Energy in Marin County. Community power has also been embraced and successfully implemented in other states including Ohio, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Despite California’s enabling legislation, CCAs have been extremely difficult to establish, in large part due to the ability of large utility companies to actively block their formation. In 2010, community power opponents spent at least $46 million on Proposition 16, a statewide ballot initiative that would have made it virtually impossible to form CCAs in California. Fortunately, voters defeated the measure, reaffirming public support for CCAs.

Still, only one local government has successfully launched a CCA since 2002, while others have tried and failed, mainly due to utility opposition. Existing law requires utilities to cooperate fully with communities seeking to establish a CCA, but the reality has been far different. SB 790 removes unnecessary burdens and undue constraints in our existing CCA implementation process. It helps ensure that community power remains a viable option.

Local governments and their ratepayers pursue CCAs to foster healthy competition. They provide consumer choice in a market dominated by monopolies, increase use of renewable power resources, achieve substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and create new local jobs. Competition, choice, local determination and job creation: These attributes represent core Republican beliefs, which helped the bill earn strong bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature. It was presented on the Assembly floor by a Republican and the minority leader spoke in support, even after false claims were made about the bill. These are not people in the habit of “filling union coffers.”

The lesson? Don’t believe everything you read. A right-wing blogger, representing special interests who are distorting language in the bill, doesn’t let facts get in the way of her exaggerated commentary. In considering SB 790, Gov. Jerry Brown should ignore the noise, focus on the benefits of this bipartisan supported measure, and sign this reasonable piece of legislation into law.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, represents California’s 3rd Senate District.