State judges told the California Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that its members don’t have a right to pollute, rejecting claims by its attorneys that payments required to release greenhouse gases under a marquee climate program are a kind of tax.

The state appeals court ruling could have profound implications for the future of the state’s embattled cap-and-trade program, making it more likely to survive beyond 2020, when it could help the state meet some of the world’s most ambitious climate targets.

Air pollution in Los Angeles. Prayitno

“The onus on us was to demonstrate that it wasn’t a tax,” said Stanley Young, spokesperson for the California Air Resources Board, which operates the cap-and-trade program and defended it in court. “We disproved the tax theory.”

Unless the ruling is overturned by the state’s supreme court, state Democrats may only need a simple majority of the legislature to support an extension of the program beyond 2020. Taxes in California require two-thirds majority votes to enact — a challenging hurdle to overcome despite a Democratic supermajority in both chambers.