SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A proposal to restructure one of California's landmark climate change initiatives goes before a state Senate committee on Wednesday, stepping up a legislative debate about the future of the state's cap-and-trade program.

The measure would end the current program and impose a perpetually escalating tax on carbon emissions, with much of the revenue it generates going back to taxpayers to offset the higher bills they'd face for gas and energy.

It's one of several legislative proposals lawmakers are considering to extend the program and prevent it from expiring in 2020. An Assembly bill would continue the program but largely retain the current structure.  Either route faces a high hurdle, likely requiring support from two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate to survive legal challenges.

The current program includes a cap on carbon emissions and permits to pollute, with some permits auctioned and others given away for free.

Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee will examine SB775. The bill, written by Democratic Sen. Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, would allow the state to charge a fee for carbon emissions that would apply to all industries, with a price floor and ceiling that rise over time.  The existing cap-and-trade program includes only a price floor and gives pollution permits for free to some industries while others must pay.

Wieckowski said earlier this month that as much as 90 percent of the revenue would be refunded to consumers, with the rest paying for infrastructure and research on climate change and clean energy.
The idea has divided environmentalists and groups that advocate for cleaner air in low-income communities. Some have approached it with caution, worrying that a carbon fee without the cap in the current program may not be enough incentive to force emissions down.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee advanced SB100, a proposal by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, to set a goal of generating 100 percent of California's electricity from renewable sources.